It don’t look good, news is bad: New Deal P.O. in Ukiah, CA, to close

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The post office in Ukiah, California, was built in 1937 under the New Deal.  It may close in a few weeks.  On Feb. 23, the Postal Service announced its intention to close this downtown post office and move its services to an annex at the edge of the city.  A meeting was held on April 21, and more than 200 people turned out to protest.  More might have shown up, but postcards announcing the meeting mysterious arrived a week after the meeting.  (Watch a video of the meeting here.)

The post office contains some historic murals, like the one pictured here, "Resources of the Soil," by Ben Cunningham (1938).  (For more info, see the Facebook page local citizens are maintaining about their efforts to save the Ukiah Post Office.)

Ukiah is the birthplace is folksinger and protest activist Holly Near, whose song "Show Up" contains these lyrics:

It don’t look good, news is bad
You know I lost all hope that I thought I had
But what if good news is on the way
Wouldn't you hate to miss that day
You gotta show up get ready
See if you know how to rock steady

(photo credit: ukiahpostoffice.com).

UPDATE: June 21, 2011: Mercury News reports, "Historic post office in downtown Ukiah to close": "The Postal Service said Monday that it would shut down the downtown post office and relocate its services to another facility near Highway 101. . .  Postal officials have said the mural would be preserved if the building is sold."  Some 5,000 signatures had been gathered opposing the closing. 

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Palm Beach Story

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In October of  2010, residents of Palm Beach, Florida, learned that their post office would be closing.  An historic structure built in 1936 by the New Deal, it's listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Residents had a few weeks to protest, and protest they did, but to no avail—the post office is closing, probably sometime in June

The post office has already been sold—to real estate mogul and former Democratic candidate for the Senate, Jeff Greene.  Greene says he plans to use the Mediterranean-style building to house the offices of his Palm Beach-based company, Florida Sunshine Investments, Inc.

“I’ve known that building since I was a little kid, and I didn’t want anything bad to happen to it,” said Greene.  As a teenager he used to pick up his father’s mail there.  “I have a sentimental attachment to the post office,” Greene said. “What a marvelous building.”

How Greene made his millions became an issue when he ran for the Senate in 2010.  In the Democratic primary, his opponent accused him of becoming a billionaire by trading the  credit default swaps that helped plunge the country into a recession. 

There was some truth to the accusation. As Forbes Magazine reported back in 2008 in a story entitled “The Reluctant Billionaire,” “Greene is one of those rare people who smelled trouble in housing when times were flush and made a contrarian bet that they wouldn't last.  He did so by creating his own virtual hedge fund and buying credit default swaps that rose in value as subprime mortgages fell.”  He earned a quick $800 million profit and a place on The Forbes 400 with a net worth of $1.4 billion.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission has approved Greene’s renovations plans, which involve maintaining the building’s main lobby (as required by preservation convenants) but adding a second floor to the back of the building and demolishing the central service counter to make room for a hallway.  The Commission is undecided for now on whether to keep the gold-painted sign above its entrance, “United States Post Office Palm Beach Florida.”

(Photos: Wikipedia: Post office entrance, mural, and interior.

UPDATE: June 23, 2011: The Palm Beach Daily News reports that a new post office has opened in the Royal Poinciana Plaza,a retail and office complex.  It's just a few blocks down from the now-closed main branch building.  “It’s great. But I like the other one better,” said customer Gaudi De Pedro.  "The other building was more of a traditional place. It was unique.  I always saw all my neighbors there."  The postal service has signed a 10-year lease for the space.  No ribbon-cutting ceremony was held for the new facility.

UPDATE: August, 2012: According to the Postal Service's new facilities list for leased properties, the annual rent on the new Palm Beach post office is $101,080.  

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Historic Post Office in Athens, PA: Don’t Bet on It

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The rich heritage of post offices built during the New Deal is being dismantled by the Postal Service, piece by piece.  The post office in Athens, Pennsylvania, may be closing soon.  The Sayre, PA, Morning Times reports today, "According to the Postmaster (who is not a local), a truck will come in Memorial Day weekend to move the majority of the building out and on June 4, employees were informed to report the Sayre Post Office for work.  One clerk and one maintenance man will man the office in Athens until the final shutdown is scheduled.”

The Athens, PA, post office was built in 1939, and it features, like many of the New Deal buildings, a mural of historic interest. It's entitled "General Sullivan at Tioga Point," painted in 1941 by Allan D. Jones, Jr.

The "father of American music," Stephen Foster, was born about 50 miles away, in Lawrenceville, and he attended school in Athens from 1839 to 1841. At the age of 14, he wrote his first composition, Tioga Waltz, and performed it during commencement exercises.  The site of his famous song "Camptown Races" is just 30 miles from Athens.  You can bet your money on de bob-tail nag, but don't bet on the Athens New Deal post office coming out ahead. 

UPDATE: August 20, 2015: Postal maven Evan Kalish is on the scene and reports that the historic Athens post office is still in use and intact!

(Photo credits: Athens post office; mural photo by jimmywayne, on flickr, with permission of USPS.)

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Robbing Northfield, MN, of its New Deal Post Office

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The post office in Northfield, Minnesota was built by the New Deal  in 1936.  It is on the National Register of Historic Places, and it's  a cornerstone of the Northfield Downtown Historic District.  The Postal Service has announced it will close this historic downtown post office and consolidate services at an annex a few miles away.

KYMN radio reports today that the Northfield city council is sending a letter to the USPS District Area Manager requesting the postal service delay its decision to close the  post office.  A Save Our Post Office Task Force has gathered over 1,000 petition signatures, and local business people and government officials have been meeting with their Congressional representatives, urging the USPS to reconsider its decision.  The USPS made its announcement on April 5, which began a 60-day comment period, so there's still time for local residents to make their voices heard, and it will be several weeks more before a final decision is made.

Northfield is famous for the attempted robbery of the First National Bank by Jesse James and his gang in 1876.  The robbery went bad and several people were killed, including two of the gang.  Hence, one of Northfield's slogans is "Jesse James Slipped Here."  Looks like the USPS may be more successful in robbing the town.

UPDATE: "USPS: Solutions to Save Downtown Northfield Post Office"

UPDATE: August 18, 2011: "Northfield has been rebuffed in its attempt to buy the city's endangered post office and provide free space for the U.S. Postal Service to continue retail service in the historic building."  Read more.

UPDATE: Jan. 25, not good: http://northfield.patch.com/articles/post-office-could-be-put-up-for-sale-within-days

(Photo credits: exterior)

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What Would Dizzie Do? New Deal P.O. in Cheraw, SC, to Close

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The downtown post office in Cheraw, South Carolina, was built in 1933 under the New Deal.  It's located in the middle of the Cheraw Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it's surrounded by buildings that go back to the Civil War and even earlier.  Cheraw, by the way, is the birthplace of Dizzie Gillespie.

The post office almost closed back in 1996 and again in 2009, but preservationists and government officials were able to save it.  Now this historic post office is set to close again, and this time it looks like it's going to be tough to save.  Postal Service officials want to consolidate operations by moving postal services to an annex located  three miles from downtown.

Cheraw's mayor, Scott Hunter, said the post office would not go down without a fight, and he's enlisted the support of U.S. Congressman Mick Mulvaney.  But residents of the small town can see the writing on the wall.  As the Cheraw Chronicle reports, there are already rumors going around that potential buyers are making inquiries, and preservationists are hoping that the building might be turned into a museum or something that preserves the historic integrity of the building. 

UPDATE, JUNE 8, 2011: "Residents riled up over closure of Post Office"

UPDATE, FEB. 12, 2012: USPS says, "how about a modular unit?"

(Photo credits: 1940's postcard; post office exterior)

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Closing Post Offices to Make Managers Look Good

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Representatives of the postal system appeared before a Senate subcommittee yesterday to give testimony on the financial condition of the post office as well as addressing bills before the Senate.  President of the National League of Postmasters Mark Strong had this to say:

"There appears to be renewed interest in some sectors in closing small rural post offices, an interest that is too often simplistically tied to the notion of closing excess facilities to drive excess capacity out of the system. This interest has arisen despite the fact that small rural post offices are the keystone of many rural communities, and the fact that closing post offices saves the Postal Service very little money. According to PRC data the total net cost of the 10,000 smallest Post Offices—more than one-third of all Post Offices in the United States—is less than seven tenths of one percent (0.7%) of the total cost of the United States Postal Service.

"Thus, closing post offices is not a cost savings measure of any serious import, no matter how anyone spins it. It is one of those cost saving measures that is popular with senior postal managers who wish to look good and give the impression that they are driving costs out of the system, without really doing so. . . . 

"Small post offices should not be closed, and indeed cannot be closed without doing serious damage to rural America and the image of the federal government in those areas."

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Fox joins the misleading “bailout” attack

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Media Matters reports that "Fox Launches Misleading Attack On Postal Service": "On Fox & Friends, Fox Business host Stuart Varney attacked the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) for seeking a 'bailout" because if it "were run like a business," the USPS would be "cutting costs" and wouldn't need federal assistance. In fact, the USPS has been cutting costs for years, and like the USPS, hundreds of private businesses have recently received federal assistance."  The Media Matters article provides exhaustive evidence from a number of news sources about what the USPS has been doing to cut costs.  Here's the Fox video:

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If the Postal Service were private

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The Wall Street Journal editorial bashing the USPS that we noted a couple of days ago continues to stir up controversy.  The blog "Dead Tree Edition," which follows the production and distribution of magazines and catalogs, provides a thorough debunking of the Journal piece, and it makes the additional point that the Postal Service gives the Journal special treatment: "Within the Postal Service, the Journal is famous for complaining vociferously if any of its newspapers are delivered a day late, even if the Journal misses the deadline for getting the papers to a postal facility. Postal managers generally acquiesce, creating special (and labor-intensive) procedures to expedite handling of the Journal."  In response to the op-ed's refrain about what the Postal Service would be doing to cut costs if it were a private enterprise, Dead Tree Edition concludes, "If the Postal Service were a private business, it would not be subsidizing The Wall Street Journal."

The Journal editorial got the attention of Dennis Ross, Republican Congressman for Florida's 12th district, who's been Tweeting about it with his followers.  Ross is a member of the Tea Party, and apparently he's making himself a "watchdog" of the Postal Service.  You can imagine what he has to say.

If you want more on all this bruhaha about a "bailout" that's not a bailout, check out the editorial in Business Insider, which makes pretty much the same case as the Wall Street Journal piece.  This one gets a quick debunking from the Postal News blog

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More closings out west

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There's been postal service in the small town of Cora, Wyoming, for the past 120 years.  That may come to an end soon.  Cora has received notice that the post office is being studied for closure or consolidation.  The current postmaster said she was not authorized to speak to reporters about the possible closure, but former Cora postmaster Pat Poletti, who retired last year, said more should be considered than just economic benefits when deciding to close a community’s post office.  “I hope people realize the specialness of that place and the value as a community gathering place, a community icon,” said Poletti.  “As a former postmaster who has traveled all over the state teaching classes, there’s no place like the Cora Post Office. It’s on the Continental Divide hiking trail, it’s in the tourist brochures, it would just be a loss on so many levels, and to tell us we can go to Rock Springs to get our mail is ludicrous.” 

Joanna Ludwig, who owns the building and was Cora’s postmaster for 23 years, told the Sublette Examiner, “I’m very concerned for our community. . .  We serve such a vast area and we take care of all the tourists, the hikers and fishermen, the bikers and hunters in the summertime. … I have so many feelings I don’t know where to start.  This community is a family. . . . This post office has been here for 120 years, and I hope it’s here for a long time after I’ve gone. Without the post office, there would be no Cora.”

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Rescuing the USPS: Bailout or restructuring?

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Yesterday's Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed piece entitled "The Coming Postal Bailout: Congress wants taxpayers to save mail worker pensions."  The editorial argues that because the Postal Service is about to use up its $15 billion line of credit with the federal government, the USPS is going to have to ask for a "taypayer bailout."  But is helping the Postal Service stay alive really about a "bailout"? 

At the heart of the issue is the $5 billion the USPS is required to pre-pay health and retirement benefits, as mandated by the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA).  Postal Service officials argue that if it did not have to make these payments, it would be showing a $9 billion profit instead of a $12 billion deficit.  As the USPS website explains, "The Postal Service wants to restructure retiree health benefits payments to 'pay-as-you-go,' comparable to what is used by the rest of the federal government and the majority of the private sector. The Postal Service is paying for health care costs that have yet to be incurred. These funds are set aside to pay for future health care needs for employees who are not even retirement eligible. It is an unreasonable financial burden given everything that is happening in the mailing industry."

So, while the WSJ warns of a "union raid," the Postal Service is not really asking for a bailout at all.   As Postmaster  General Patrick Donahoe told Congress, "We are not asking for a bailout, just a level playing field," he said. "Take care of these unfair financial burdens and you'll never hear from us again except about how great we're doing." 

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