National Trust for Historic Preservation Names Historic U.S. Post Office Buildings to its 2012 List of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places®

Post Office building in Geneva, IL exemplifies threat facing america’s historic post offices

Today, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named America’s Historic U.S. Post Office Buildings to its 2012 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. This annual list spotlights important examples of the nation’s architectural, cultural and natural heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage. More than 230 sites have been on the list over its 25-year history, and in that time, only a handful of listed sites have been lost.

Last year, in an effort to reduce enormous operating deficits, the U.S. Postal Service identified nearly 4,400 post offices that it planned to study for closure. When that plan met with opposition from the public and legislators, the Postal Service announced that it would not pursue closures, and would instead lower expenses by reducing operating hours. The shifting position of the Postal Service has left our nation’s stock of historic post office buildings facing a very uncertain future.

Across the country, many historic post offices have already been closed, while many others are threatened by the Postal Services’ failure to establish a clear and consistent process for transferring these buildings to new owners. Local preservationists, city officials, potential developers, and others willing to rehabilitate former post offices for new uses often are frustrated by the lack of information and guidance from the Postal Service.

The National Trust recognizes the Postal Services’ need to address its budget issues by consolidating and transferring ownership of certain post office buildings. However, the lack of a transparent and uniform national process from the Postal Service—one that follows federal preservation laws when considering disposal of these buildings—is needlessly placing the future of many historic post office buildings in doubt.

In Geneva, Illinois, for example, developers interested in purchasing and rehabbing the town’s historic post office abandoned their efforts after several months because they could not get timely or clear answers from Postal Service representatives. Other communities have had similar experiences, including:

  • Fernandina Beach, FL - Built in 1912, this post office was Fernandina Beach’s first steel-framed building, and it continues to anchor the town’s historic district. After years of deferred maintenance on the building, the Postal Service closed it in 2011. The City of Fernandia Beach would like to purchase the building and restore it as a viable center of downtown commerce, but the deal has stalled due to the Postal Services’ apparent reluctance to negotiate.
  • Gulfport, MS - After the Postal Service announced that it would sell this historic Italian Renaissance Revival post office, Mississippi preservation officials began working with the Postal Service on an easement to protect the building’s historic character. Before this standard process was completed, however, Postal Service representatives ceased communications. When they resurfaced, weeks later, the Postal Service announced that it already had a purchase agreement in place, and said that an easement would jeopardize the sale. Though negotiations continue, and a sale and eventual rehab are likely, the Postal Services’ actions needlessly complicated the transaction.La Jolla, Calif.
  • La Jolla’s post office has been a beloved fixture of the village's commercial area for generations, so when the Postal Service announced plans in January to sell the 77 year old building and relocate its services, a vocal coalition of area residents and merchants, led by the La Jolla Historical Society sprang to its defense. Their spirited volunteer efforts on behalf of preserving the building and its WPA-era artwork—including drafting a National Register nomination, providing alternative business plans to the Postal Service, collecting over 2,500 signatures for a petition, enlisting the help of political representatives and even writing a song—may yet save the building, but the Postal Services’ accelerated timeframe and lack of timely and meaningful communications continue to be major obstacles.

Local post office buildings have traditionally played an essential role in the lives of millions of Americans. Many are architecturally distinctive, prominently located, and cherished as civic icons in communities across the country. Unless the Postal Service establishes a transparent, consistent, and preservation-sensitive process for these buildings, a significant part of the nation’s architectural heritage remains at risk. We encourage the Postal Service to develop a clear and consistent process that will guide planning and rehabilitation efforts at historic post offices across the country.

 “We understand the dire economic situation of the U.S. Postal Service and its need to make difficult financial decisions,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “With a more transparent and preservation-friendly process in place, thousands of these historic buildings can be successfully transformed--- giving new life to places that have been community gathering places for generations. The National Trust is committed to working with the Postal Service to develop a plan that both addresses their fiscal priorities and streamlines the process for transferring ownership of historic post offices.”  

Members of the public are invited to learn more about what they can do to support these 11 historic places and hundreds of other endangered sites at www.PreservationNation.org/places

The 2012 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places (in alphabetical order):

Bridges of Yosemite Valley, Calif. – A proposed National Park Service management plan for the Merced River, which flows through the heart of Yosemite National Park, would leave three historic Rustic Style bridges in danger of removal—despite their significance to the park’s treasured landscape.

Ellis Island Hospital Complex, New York Harbor, NY and NJ. - Ellis Island was once known as an “Island of Hope” for immigrants who launched new lives in America, but the hospital and support structures on the Island—once comprising the largest U.S. Public Health Service institution in the country—are now dilapidated and threatened by lack of funding.

Historic U.S. Post Office Buildings – From coast to coast, historic American post office buildings are facing uncertain futures. Due to the U.S. Postal Services haphazard disposition process, developers and others interested in purchasing and rehabbing these historic buildings end up walking away after failing to get timely or clear answers from the Postal Service.

Joe Frazier’s Gym, Philadelphia, Pa. – The gym where boxing legend Joe Frazier trained for his victorious bout against Muhammad Ali is currently for sale, unrecognized and unprotected by local or national preservation designations.

Malcolm X-Ella Little-Collins House, Boston, Ma. – Built in 1874, this modest structure is the last known surviving boyhood home of Malcolm X.  Largely unused  for over 30 years, plans are in development to rehabilitate and reuse the deteriorating property as living quarters for graduate students who are studying African American history, social justice, or civil rights.

Princeton Battlefield, Princeton, N.J. – Princeton Battlefield, the site of a historic battle that was pivotal in changing the tide of the American Revolution, is threatened by a proposed housing development that would adversely impact the historic landscape.

Sweet Auburn Historic District, Atlanta, Ga. – Sweet Auburn, a prime example of the flourishing segregated African-American neighborhoods in the South during the Jim Crow era and birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr., faces disinvestment and inappropriate development along its commercial corridor.

Terminal Island, Port of Los Angeles, Calif. – Terminal Island was a major shipbuilding center, the place where America’s tuna canning industry came of age, the site of the forced removal of nearly 3,000 Japanese-Americans residents in 1942, and is now a popular setting for movie and TV productions. This site is threatened by continued neglect due to long-term vacancy of the historic buildings, and a proposed plan that limits reuse of the buildings and, in some cases, calls for their demolition.

Texas Courthouses. – Texas’ 244 courthouses serve as important architectural and historical records of the state’s past. Physical deterioration outpaces the availability of public funds necessary for courthouse restoration and revitalization, and competing needs for limited revenue challenge their future.

Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch, Billings County, N.D. – As Theodore Roosevelt’s home in the North Dakota Badlands, the Elkhorn Ranch inspired his views on conservation. Today it is threatened by a proposed road and bridge that would forever mar the Elkhorn Ranch landscape and stain Roosevelt’s legacy of conservation.  

Village of Zoar, Ohio – This 195-year old Village in Northeast Ohio was founded in 1817 by religious separatists fleeing Germany. Remarkably intact, the Village is threatened by the potential removal of a levee that could lead to massive flooding or require demolition of much of the town.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation will reveal one of the sites a day early to fans of its facebook page: facebook.com/NationalTrustforHistoricPreservation. Follow us on Twitter at @presnation and join the conversation using the hashtag #savingplaces

To download high resolution images of this year’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in advance of June 6, please contact pr@nthp.org. On or after June 6, visit http://www.preservationnation.org/who-we-are/press-center/ to register and download high resolution images and video.

America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places has identified more than 230 threatened one-of-a-kind historic treasures since 1988. Whether these sites are urban districts or rural landscapes, Native American landmarks or 20th-century sports arenas, entire communities or single buildings, the list spotlights historic places across America that are threatened by neglect, insufficient funds, inappropriate development or insensitive public policy. The designation has been a powerful tool for raising awareness and rallying resources to save endangered sites from every region of the country. At times, that attention has garnered public support to quickly rescue a treasured landmark; while in other instances, it has been the impetus of a long battle to save an important piece of our history.

 

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places to enrich our future. www.PreservationNation.org

 

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places.
PreservationNation.org