Saving the Post Office
Our postal system has made the news recently, but let’s digress from the political discussions and look at the bricks and mortar, the guts and values.
The big question is: do we need post offices anymore?
Benjamin Franklin, our first Postmaster-General 1775, before we were even a Nation, had a vision: a service to bind a fledging country together through fast, reliable correspondence. This guiding principal remains, even as telegraph, radio, television and now the internet, compete for attention. Our post system is the enviable World model, considered the most efficient letter delivery system despite the financial challenges. https://money.cnn.com/2012/02/06/news/economy/postal_service/index.htm#:~:text=The%20U.S.%20Postal%20Service%20is,world%20by%20a%20British%20study.
Early 20th Century was the pentacle of technology with airmail and 600 letter pneumatic tubes traveling 35 miles/hour between New York and Chicago. In 1913, It was even legal to mail a baby. Go figure! https://www.thoughtco.com/when-it-was-legal-mail-babies-3321266
In 1789, there were 75 post offices in the young US. Today, there are over 40,000. The PS buildings attempted to reflect the region's architecture and heritage. They were the bastion of local history and community culture. While still incredibly efficient, will letters and post offices have any value in the 21st Century?
In 2011, to cut operating expenses the USPS closed thousands of post offices across the country, only to hit widespread resistance. With a strong postal union and an aversion to innovation, there is no clear vision of what the USPS or post offices should be in the 21st Century.
Interestingly, most post offices like Napa’s Downtown branch are not owned by the USPS, although they remain the epicenter of many communities. Their future becomes tied to local desire to save its history, regardless of efficacy Which brings up the Franklin Station Post Office on Second Street proposal to convert it and lands adjacent into a luxury hotel. https://napavalleyregister.com/news/local/napa-county-landmarks-questions-design-of-post-office-to-hotel-conversion/article_20069887-ca53-568a-b31c-49e4d50620ba.html The proposal has gone through multiple design reviews and currently has a new proposal that attempts to simplify the adjacent 5-story additions and emphasize the historic post office front facade. The previous proposal competed for attention like angry siblings. The new design maintains calmer complimentary structural elements that don’t overpower the historic building. https://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/article/industrynews/plan-for-napa-hotel-in-former-post-office-returns-with-new-design-after-par/
This proposal allows the post office to stand visually independent while surrounded by the new hotel, unlike the 5-story Archer Hotel that overwhelms the Historic Merrill’s building. https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C1GCEA_enUS770US770&source=univ&tbm=isch&q=Images+merrill%27s+drugstore+and+archer+napa&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj30ezqx-nrAhX1HjQIHQQXBBwQsAR6BAgKEAE&biw=889&bih=805
The Planning Commission will weigh in on this proposal soon. Many citizens will criticize the proposal’s massiveness, but the developer can’t make it invisible.
The next challenge will be what to do with the Trancas Street post office. Believe it or not, it qualifies as historic and if you squint a little you can embrace its Mid-Century design as boldly unique.
While growing up in Hollywood, my mail carrier father was lucky enough to carry our own block. He timed his rounds for lunch at home. In those days, he knew everyone, many who camped by their mailbox for delivery but also local gossip. Today social media is king, but it cannot replace the sensation of opening a handwritten letter.
Chris d. Craiker AIA/NCARB