La Jollans react to Wall Street post office being moved, building sold


La Jollans will try to save Wall St. post office building from sale, closing

w/ 2.images: post office and mural

At a Glance

• Jan. 9, 2012: U.S. Post Office announces the sale of some buildings as part of its budget cuts. The La Jolla Post Office at 1140 Wall St. is among those to be sold.

• Jan. 12, 2012: La Jollans begin discussing strategies to try and save the historic building and its contents.

• Spring 2012: USPS said financial analysis will be completed to determine whether it will set a price, or just put the postal building on the open market.

• Today: La Jolla postal operations will remain where they are until there is a sale of the property.

By Dave Schwab

La Jollans’ reaction to news last week that their main Post Office building at 1140 Wall St. will be moved and the building put up for sale as part of a national plan to reduce costs, was immediate.

Since the Post Office contains a 1939 Works Progress Administration (WPA) mural painted by Belle Baranceanu “California Landscape,” the news was particularly disturbing.

“This comes as a quite a shock and surprise: We’re dismayed the Post Office did not reach out to the community,” said Joe LaCava, La Jolla Community Planning Association trustee.

Noting the Village Post Office “has a civic use” and is a “local gathering spot and a hub of activity,” LaCava said losing it would be a huge loss.

“This Post Office is vitally important not only for its contents, but the historical nature of the building as well,” he said.

John Bolthouse, executive director of La Jolla Historical Society, agreed.

“It has not been designated in the National Register of Historic Places, but is in the process,” he said. “The facility definitely is worthy of preservation and we’re going to be monitoring it very closely.”

Bolthouse added the existing Post Office is also historic in that it was remodeled in 1960 by Southern California master architect William Lumpkins.

La Jollans are also concerned about what will become of the Post Office’s Depression-era mural, an Earth-toned view of the Cove in 1935 and 1936, painted by the early modernist Baranceanu (1902-1988).

Diane Kane, formerly of the city’s Historical Resources Division in the Planning Department, who is on La Jolla’s Development Permit Review Committee, said La Jolla’s Wall Street Post Office and historic mural are both deserving of preservation as prime examples of architectural and artistic styles of an era.

“Very early Post Offices were quite large and very grandiose,” said Kane pointing out La Jolla’s Post Office recently marked its 75th anniversary.

“By the time they got to the period of our (La Jolla’s) Post Office, in the middle of the Great Depression, they were small-town structures built on small budgets that have name-brand architects who were federal employees.”

When asked about preservation of the mural, Kane said it is possible — though difficult — with modern techniques to preserve and even transfer it.

She suggested it also might be possible to prevent the mural’s being destroyed by a new building owner by putting language in a restrictive covenant that would make preserving the mural a condition of the building’s sale.

Last week the U.S. Postal Service’s San Diego District identified La Jolla’s main Post Office as “a valuable asset whose potential sale would generate much-needed capital for the Postal Service.”

“We’ll be looking for a smaller facility within a mile of the old facility,” said Eva Jackson, USPS spokeswoman, noting the Wall Street Post Office is retail only. She said mail carriers for La Jolla’s 92037 Zip Code would continue to operate out of a satellite office at 720 Silver St.

Jackson said the Wall Street postal facility is “bigger than what (USPS) needs,” noting the property is “pretty valuable.”

“So in our financial state it will help us to sell it and relocate to a smaller facility,” she said. The post office’s Zip Code, hours of operation, P.O. Boxes, etc. will all remain the same. The only thing that would change would be the location.”

Dave Rouse of USPS said it would take about three months to lay the groundwork for putting the La Jolla Post Office property on the market. He added USPS is not sure whether they will set a price, or just put it on the open market. He added La Jolla postal operations will remain where they are until there is a sale of the property.