Downtown Berkeley post office to close after 97 years

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).”