Berkeley’s civic downtown is about to be dealt a body blow if plans by the Postal Service to sell the Main Post Office at 2000 Allston Way go through.
The stately building, completed in 1915, is now scheduled to be closed and sold as surplus property.
Augustine Ruiz, a regional spokesperson for the Postal Service confirmed today, in response to an inquiry from the Planet, ”we are in the process of selling the post office. All carrier operations and Bulk Mail operations will move to the Berkeley Destination Delivery Unit (DDU) located at 1150 8th Street.”
“We will establish alternate retail services somewhere in the current area of the Main Post Office on Allston Way. We are in the process of looking for a retail location to serve customers in the area. Nothing is finalized on an alternate location as of this date. Our Facility Services Office will be handling the real estate sale of the building.”
Ruiz added “City of Berkeley Mayor's office and congressional representatives were sent a letter of our plans on June 21, 2012.”
A copy of that letter wasn’t available, but community users of the Main Office received the news in a letter to bulk mail users, dated June 22 and stuffed in PO boxes at the building, which stated:
"Berkeley Main Post Office located at 2000 Allston Way Berkeley, CA 94704-9998 will be sold” and gave information for relocating bulk mail. A copy of that letter is here.
Sale of the Post Office building, if it goes through, will be in several respects a tragedy for civic Berkeley. 19th and early 20th century Berkeley government and business leaders worked hard to get a Downtown Post office facility worthy of the growing city and succeeded in the second decade of the century, when construction of the current building was authorized in 1910.
This was the same era when Berkeley’s old City Hall was erected, the Downtown YMCA was completed, Berkeley High School was expanded, and the University was rapidly growing a few blocks to the east.
The Post Office, a graceful neoclassical structure was designed by Oscar Wenderoth, and designated City of Berkeley Landmark #38 in 1980. Architectural historian Susan Cerny called it in her guidebook to Berkeley architecture, a “free adaption of Brunelleschi’s Foundling Hospital in Florence with its high round arches on plain Tuscan columns.”
During the early 20th century, Cerny notes, “government buildings were designed to educate and develop the public’s appreciation for fine architectural design. The Berkeley Post Office is an excellent example of this sense of mission.”
With its near block-long frontages on Allston Way and Milvia Street, wide entrance stairs and loggia, and strategic position at a corner occupied by Berkeley High School, the Downtown YMCA, and the current main city administration offices in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Civic Center Building, it forms a key anchor of the Downtown. It also contains two of the more important local examples of WPA (Works Progress Administration) art.
The future of the property is now considerably in doubt. A City staff member told me that they had heard a private religious group had been interested in buying the building. It might also, presumably, be appealing to local private developers as a building site.