Downtown Berkeley post office to close after 97 years

Post Office Closing
Joe Wright/File

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After nearly 97 years at its Downtown Berkeley location, the United States Postal Service decided in June to close its main post office branch on Allston Way and move to a new location.

The service has not yet determined an asking price for the current building, nor to whom it will sell the building, according to Michael Caplan, the city’s manager of economic development. The final closure date of the post office will not be decided until the appraisal process is finished.

Caplan also said the new site would not impact customers because the retail services and shipping items will be transferred to a new mailing site and staffed accordingly.

One of the issues that prompted the move was a revenue decline that stemmed from competition from other businesses that provided the same mailing services as the Downtown Berkeley branch, according to postal service spokesperson Gus Ruiz.

“People are going online, to Costco centers and other places,” Ruiz said. “We have fewer and fewer customers walking in and out of our doors.”

According to Ruiz, the postal service’s plan is to adopt cost containment strategies to re-generate revenue for the agency. Based on this strategy, cuts will be made in areas like infrastructure and employment concentration and a deeper focus will be on shipping since Ruiz said that is how most people choose to mail packages today.

Post office supervisors declined to comment on the agency’s plan to move to another location in Berkeley.

The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association — a nonprofit organization that promotes appreciation of Berkeley’s historical buildings — has stated that the post office location holds historical significance for the city.

According to the association’s description of the building in 1981, the building represented early Berkeley’s coming of age, since its completion in 1915 — a time that symbolized a boom in economic and population growth as well as a rise in political refinement.

“The Berkeley post office is a public space, and when it’s sold, it will turn into a private space,” said Save the Post Office Editor and Administrator Steve Hutkins. “Selling historic post offices is a form of ‘divestiture of assets’ — a step toward privatization.”

Save the Post Office is a website that gives information regarding postal office closures and upcoming consolidations.

According to Gray Brechin, a visiting scholar in the UC Berkeley Department of Geography and a Berkeley resident, the post office on Allston Way is very important for the city. Brechin said the post office was built during a period when many believed architectural beautification could bring harmony to urban living.

“The federal government went to special lengths to give Berkeley one of the handsomest postal facilities in the state and possibly the nation,” Brechin said. “It represents the high idealism of the City Beautiful Movement.”

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said although the city would see increased revenue as result of sale of the building, he is concerned with the future use of the building. Whether the building becomes privately owned or not, Arreguin said he hopes it will be in positive use and benefit the downtown area.

“It’s important to have a post office in the middle of the city,” said Anthony Bruce, executive director of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association. “Its best use is the original use (of sending mail).”

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  • Marit Hervig

    I lived in Berkeley in the ’90’s and one of its downtrown attractions for me is the post office. I now live in Iowa City and have great memories of the historic building, across from the YMCA, where the Saturday farmers markets ran. Uncle Sam, stop dismantling your country; people, stand up for your society, don’t let this hundred year old beauty succomb to corporate sponsored austerity.

  • As a small business person who uses post office regularly I am dismayed and especially this wonderful public space.

  • Guest

    I have never been in the Downtown Post Office, or the North Shattuck Post Office, or the Durant Post Office, when there is not a long wait for service. The downtown post office is centrally located in Berkeley and its value is not simply related to the amount of over the counter business. It is the centrally located logistical hub of Post Office operations in Berkeley, where the Post Office seems to park all their vehicles used on Berkeley routes and where all routes start and end. The only other possible locations in Berkeley that the Postal Service could use as a logistical hub and to park their vehicles are somewhere in West Berkeley. If the downtown Post Office is closed, the average distance driven by mail carriers to reach their routes is going to increase. The efficiency of routes will decrease. If there are savings what and where are they? The savings cannot be known unless there is a new post office location as a point of comparison as a logistical hub and as already stated, the only possible locations are in West Berkeley, not centrally located. It seems improbable that there can be long term savings. This seems like a short term revenue boosting scheme that has a long term increased cost outcome. Certain members of the City government are of course delighted at the prospect of taking the Post Office property off the tax exempt rolls which is why there has not been a vociferous outcry from City Hall.

  • Wow. Lots of memories at this place. Most bad, but some very good. Sad to see such old buildings go away.

  • James

    i know its a shame that they’re closing, but the generally the staff at that post office are jerks. i lived across the street for 4 years and have never had a smooth interaction with the post office. even mail delivery is poor.

  • Boltgun4slavecattle

    “Brechin said the post office was built during a period when many believed architectural beautification could bring harmony to urban living.”

    Like it’s a past tense thing, when everything that’s been built since is dystopian industrial shyte or some sprockets-dancing turtleneck-wearing kid fiddler’s egotistical tantrum in a box.

    Amazing that more highly evolved people are willing to invest in making even the mundane activities of their day, like picking up the mail, beautiful.

    Today’s industrial slave cattle, however, have reduced everything, including themselves, to commodity, and overpopulation has created a dumbed down buffer class of middlemen without skill or craft. The result is that skill and craft become d.i.y. again for a few, but available input materials today are far more expensive and of far lower quality due to resource exhaustion, substitution, and commodification. Thus the slave cattle celebrate when a sprockets-dancing kid raper contorts some aluminum siding for their new holding pen, and calls it modernist or postmodernist or avant garde, while managers and bean counters congratulate themselves on value engineering and raise their own salaries. Ugly begats ugly.

  • Matt

    good riddance.