FIFTH STREET — The historic post office on Fifth Street will shutter its doors at noon on June 29 and a new location across town will open the following Monday, it was announced Thursday.
The release marks the end of a year-long battle to keep the Downtown location, which will be replaced by a new customer service office at the Santa Monica Carrier Annex on Seventh Street near Olympic Boulevard.
The United States Postal Service (USPS) planned to invest $400,000 in the office to prepare it for its new role, even as it works to sell the New Deal-era building as part of a national plan to pawn off properties to plug the multi-billion dollar hole in the semi-private organization’s budget.
The new location will be open for business on July 1, earlier than originally expected, said Richard Maher, spokesperson for the USPS.
Those who need service after noon on Saturday can go to the Country Mart Contract Postal Unit on 26th Street or the Mar Vista Station on Grand View Boulevard, according to the USPS.
The company will put a notice in each of its post office boxes, make a stack of notices available at the Fifth Street counter and post a large sign on the building to let people know about the change, Maher said.
Santa Monica residents reacted negatively to the proposed closure last year, packing a meeting at the Ken Edwards Center on Fourth Street and organizing grassroots campaigns to save the site.
They said that the Downtown office was convenient, easily accessible and safer than the annex, which faces Interstate 10, is near a homeless shelter and has little pedestrian traffic and few businesses nearby.
Joel MaHarry, a Santa Monica resident who used the Downtown post office on Thursday, lamented the loss of the building in favor of a location that was out of the way and in an unattractive neighborhood.
“This is a much more pleasant place to be ignored by post office employees,” MaHarry said.
Despite campaigns by residents, City Hall and even Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Santa Monica), the USPS stood firm in its decision to move operations to the Seventh Street center, citing lower costs and greater efficiency.
The old building will go up for sale “very soon,” although the starting price has not yet been determined, Maher said.
“It’s a beautiful building right Downtown there, and it has a lot of uses,” Maher said. “Offices, bank, legal offices, restaurant, small shops — a lot of our historic buildings have been used for those purposes.”
The building comes with strings.
The post office has been serving the public since 1937, and has been identified as a historic location. The Postal Service committed to sell the building and other historic edifices in its portfolio to buyers willing to protect the property’s key elements.
Officials are working with a state historic preservation officer and will identify aspects of the buildings that need to be preserved and establish “covenants” around them that are attached to the property deed.
The organization will then have to find a covenant holder to enforce those agreements.
The Landmarks Commission is expected to use its next meeting to identify some of those features before the matter goes to the City Council. The council must vote on the matter if City Hall is to take on the responsibility of enforcing the covenant, said Carol Lemlein, head of the Santa Monica Conservancy.
“There appears to be some amount of momentum to make that happen, but we haven’t had a conversation with people in the council yet,” she said.
In the meantime, the USPS has tried to find other ways out of its budgetary predicament, but with little success.
The service is the only organization in the United States required by Congress to pre-pay health benefits for future retirees for the next 75 years, and a 25 percent drop in the volume of mail seen over the last several years did not help, either.
Proposals to cut home letter delivery on Saturday met stiff resistance from congressional representatives, despite the fact that home package delivery and post office box delivery would be maintained, Maher said.
“We’re going to continue trying to implement the plan because it responds to the way people use the Postal Service,” Maher said. “Package service is up 14 percent over the last two years. That’s where our growth is.”