The New York Times has an excellent front-page article by Robin Pogrebin about the Postal Service’s push to sell off its historic post office buildings. It includes a great photo scroll, and it's getting lots of very lively comments.
As the Times explains, the Postal Service owns nearly a quarter of its 31,000 post offices (it leases space for the rest), and over 1,100 of them were built during the 1930s by FDR's New Deal. There are over 2,000 post offices either on or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
Now all of these post offices are all in danger of being sold off to private businesses. In its annual report to Congress, the Postal Service says it has earmarked 600 properties for disposal. It doesn't say how many are historic.
About a dozen of these historic post offices have been sold recently, and another 40 are listed as for sale or about to be put on the market. Here's a map showing where they're located:
As the Times notes, historic preservationists are concerned about how the Postal Service is going about the sales and what happens to the buildings after they're sold.
“Our biggest concern is the way they’re going about it isn’t transparent,” said Chris Morris, a senior field officer for the National Trust and project manager for post office buildings. “A lot of us are very confused about the process.”
Advocates say there have been too few public discussions or assurances that prized buildings will be protected. Concerns about the post offices “are overwhelming the state historic preservation offices,” said Carol Lemlein, president of the Santa Monica Conservancy.
“There is very little confidence in the Postal Service’s ability to execute a process in a manner that will really protect the buildings,” she added.
The other problem is what happens after the building is sold. In 2009, the New Deal post office in Virginia Beach was torn down to make room for a Walgreens (which is now an “authorized postal provider” selling stamps).
More often, the post office is turned into a commercial space, like a high-end boutique, or private offices, like a real estate company. As the Times points out, historic preservations are concerned that “when these post offices close … important public buildings become private preserves.”
There's more about the legal issues involved in the Postal Service's disposal process in this post from earlier in the week. To learn more about the country’s legacy of historic post offices and the fire sale going on, check out this resource page.