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Keeping Post Offices Public: Three Case Studies On The Disposal And Rehabilitation Of Historic Post Offices

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Abstract

The United States Postal Service (USPS) plans to close thousands of its facilities over the next decade in response to a steady decline in patronage and severe budget deficits. Many of the buildings under review for closure and sale are historic post offices. These venerable civic structures often boast distinctive architectural designs and occupy prominent downtown locations. Given their favorable characteristics, historic post offices deemed to be excess by the federal government are prime candidates for redevelopment. Their closure and sale raises the important question of how these buildings can best be reused in the future. Local post offices are icons of civic culture and a source of community pride. Traditionally, the buildings acted as civic and social centers. Everyone visited the post office on a regular basis to retrieve their mail, making it a place to meet neighbors and share news. Post offices continue to serve as true democratic spaces that allow equal access to all citizens and foster a greater sense of community identity. They are special places that revive poignant memories in the hearts of many. Optimally, historic post offices that are declared surplus will remain public amenities due to their vibrant civic legacy. Keeping Post Offices Public examines how the disposal and rehabilitation of historic post offices for public purposes enables their civic legacy to be preserved. The opening chapters present evidence for why these buildings should continue to act as civic institutions while the closing chapters express how interested parties can acquire historic post offices and rehabilitate them for new public uses. The history of the postal system and its buildings was studied to show the important role post offices have played in the lives of individual citizens and in the greater community. The disposal process for historic post offices was also researched to provide a better understanding of how surplus properties are conveyed to new owners and the mechanisms put in place by the federal government to protect the defining characteristics of these resources after disposition. Three case studies were then presented to illustrate the rehabilitation process and to evaluate the outcomes. The case studies in Ithaca, New York; Rockville, Maryland; and Beverly Hills, California reveal that the civic and architectural legacies of a historic post office can be preserved through rehabilitation for a public use. The new uses have protected both the public nature of the buildings and significant architectural features. The case studies further demonstrate the need for community involvement in the rehabilitation process and the importance of commissioning qualified preservation professionals. The lessons learned from these case studies can be applied in other communities faced with the closure of a historic post office.

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2013-01-28

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post offices; rehabilitation; public use

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Committee Chair

Chusid, Jeffrey M.

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Tomlan, Michael Andrew

Degree Discipline

Historic Preservation Planning

Degree Name

M.A., Historic Preservation Planning

Degree Level

Master of Arts

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Government Document

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dissertation or thesis

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