Where did the shrubs go? La Jolla Post Office landscaping to include mulch, river-rock

The La Jolla Post Office as of January 2018
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Hoping for a picture-perfect backdrop when the La Jolla Post Office receives a plaque recognizing its historicity in March, plans are underway to re-landscape the Post Office frontage at 1140 Wall St. Initiated by Seonaid McArthur, chair of the La Jolla Landmark Group, and community supporters, the original plans include water-conscious trees and shrubbery, an new bike rack and benches.

So imagine their surprise when the former vegetation came out and the group learned mulch and river-rocks are now planned to grace the landmark building’s exterior. The La Jolla Post Office was built in 1935.

The pre-existing landscaping was recently removed because it was reportedly dying, as well as to make way for the new landscaping. In the coming weeks, McArthur said, mulch will be packed on the Wall Street side of the property and river-rocks will be placed on the Ivanhoe Street side — a seemingly more budget-friendly option.

The La Jolla Post Office, 1140 Wall St., as it was previously landscaped. Photo taken August 2017. Light File

Although the group is concerned over the lack of communication in instituting the new landscape plan, McArthur said she is “optimistic” that the greenery-based landscaping will be carried out at some point.

“In October, we were told there was a landscaping budget approved. I thought from there, things were great,” she told La Jolla Light. “We thought everything would go forward as planned. I was told crews would be trimming trees, so I stopped by to see how things were going and the people working on site were not familiar with the plans we submitted. We became alarmed that we didn’t know what they were doing.”

In the course of their investigation, the group developed the impression the project they presented was over-budget and therefore consolidated to something more manageable. Funding for this project comes from (and is thereby limited to) the local United States Post Office and District budgets, the latter of which covers a large portion of San Diego County. The hope is to implement parts of the plan, as the budget allows, over the next few years.

When plans were introduced, the hope was that local organizations could donate funds to the project. However, it is against United States Postal Service policy to accept donations of “any physical improvements, including, without limitation, exterior improvements, landscaping, additions, renovations, or maintenance services,” according to the U.S. Postal Service Facilities Guide to Real Property Acquisitions and Related Services document, dated October 2015.

“We wish there was a way to permit the community to help with funding, but there is not. That’s the difficult position we’re in,” McArthur explained.

She said the group wanted to landscape the Post Office ahead of this year’s San Diego-proclaimed “La Jolla Landmarks Week,” recognized the third week of March. The La Jolla Post Office (and its 1930s Belle Baranceanu mural inside) was historically designated on the local and national scale in 2013, but a plaque was never posted describing this recognition. Now one has been acquired, and a ceremony is planned to unveil the plaque on March 20 (see below).

In honor of the historical designation, wheels began turning on how to spruce up the frontage. Charrettes with local landscapers with experience working on historical properties and supporters were held to decide the most appropriate foliage. Todd Fry Landscape Architects drafted the plans.

Todd Fry landscape architect Jennifer Phelps explained in spring 2017, a group of volunteers — including members of the Village Garden Club of La Jolla, La Jolla Rotary, La Jolla Historical Society, local landscape architects and other interested community members — met with La Jolla Postmaster Anita Real-Castro and other Post Office staff, to generate a new planting plan for the La Jolla Post Office property.

“The group developed a set of goals, which included: 1) maintaining the existing Eucalyptus tree and Italian Cypress trees; 2) selecting plants appropriate to the historic period of the building and honoring the architectural character of the building; 3) using the landscaping as a tool to enhance the building and highlight the building architectural features, such as entries, windows, etc.; 4) addressing the function of the site, by providing Post Office visitors with benches, bike racks, and other functional site furnishings; and 5) selecting aesthetically pleasing, low-maintenance, low-water plants that will help bring more nature into in an urban setting.”

With the renderings that meet these goals complete, they were submitted to Real-Castro, who said she supported the proposal and wished to see it come to fruition.

McArthur added: “We’re fortunate to have someone there that cares about the community and how it looks (Real-Castro), so she is going to work with us in the future.”

In addition to the landscaping, McArthur said the building is in need of repairs to the stucco and new paint. She believes that, following the 2012 announcement that the U.S. Postal Service intended to sell the building, there was little care given to it. However, the community rallied to prevent the sale. From 2012 to 2014, the Save the La Jolla Post Office Task Force held protests, conducted community surveys and facilitated a letter-writing campaign to elected officials and postal service personnel, urging cancellation of the sale plan. Since then, the USPS has not pursued it.

As such, Real-Castro said she requested some care be given to the building and that it was her “full intention” to have additional aesthetic improvements carried out “in due time.”

Historic Plaque Dedication

A ceremony to commemorate the national designation of the La Jolla Post Office with an official plaque is scheduled for 9 a.m., Tuesday, March 20 at 1140 Wall St. Local supporters and elected officials have been invited.

“This event is in connection to ‘La Jolla Landmarks Week’ and a wonderful alignment with this occasion,” said La Jolla Historical Society executive director, Heath Fox. “The La Jolla Post Office is so very important in many ways — for it’s location in the center of the La Jolla Village residential and commercial district; as a symbol of community identity; and its historical and architectural importance as a New Deal/WPA-era project, which includes the very significant mural of La Jolla Cove, painted in 1939 by artist Belle Baranceanu on the interior wall.”