Hocking Our Heritage – At a Discount

June 1, 2015

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Murals depicting our nation's heritage grace the lobbies of many post offices. Here is 
Stagecouch, Overland Express and Riverboat Carrying U.S. Mail, by Valdimir Rousseff,
which has been displayed in the Reedly, CA, Main Post Office since 1935. 

(This article first appeared in the July-August 2015 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

“When USPS management sells these priceless public properties to private interests at a discount, they are privatizing a national treasure,” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein.

The Postal Service not only takes these assets away from the people they belong to, but often sells them to individuals who work against the best interest of the public: bigwig developers who are only interested in their own profit.

Bronx General Post Office

Despite a hearty fight from the community, the Bronx General Post Office was sold by CBRE to developer Youngwoo & Associates in the fall of 2014.

More than just a neighborhood hub, the building, built in 1937, was designated a landmark in 1976, grandly decorated with art from Works Progress Administration (WPA) artists Ben Shahn and Bernarda Bryson.

Ironically, before the sale, a large portrait of Walt Whitman graced the lobby, featuring the last stanza of one of Whitman’s poems: “Democracy rests finally upon us.”

Instead of keeping the landmark in the hands of the people, Youngwoo paid $19 million for the building, which is slated to become retail and commercial space. Only a small part of the original post office will be preserved.

Post Office to Luxury Hotel

Although the transaction wasn’t handled by CBRE, the Old Post Office in Downtown Washington, DC, was sold to mega-developer Donald Trump in 2012. When he broke ground last July, Trump said he would invest $200 million to “restore this magnificent building to even well beyond its original grandeur.”

The building will be converted to a 270-room luxury hotel, with a sprawling ballroom, high-end spa, the biggest presidential suites in the country, event space, and fine dining, complete with “glittering crystal sconces and chandeliers.”

But none of it will belong to the people.

Berkeley Post Office Saved

After a three-year fight to preserve their historic post office, residents of Berkeley, CA, can claim a victory: The Postal Service has taken the building off the market – for now.

At a May 9 celebratory rally, lawmakers credited two recent developments: The OIG’s report on CBRE and a court decision.

Although U.S. District Judge William Alsup dismissed lawsuits brought by the city and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the ruling was a victory. In a rare move, the judge said he would retain jurisdiction of the case for the next five years, so if the USPS puts the building up for sale again, he will be the one to decide its fate. However, the Postal Service could appeal the decision, further dragging out the process.

“We have a lot to celebrate. It’s been three years since the post office said this building would be sold,” Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said at the rally. “We will save this building and keep it open in perpetuity.”

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