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Santa Monica Council Set to Approve Plans to Restore Historic Post Office Lobby  

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By Niki Cervantes

Staff Writer

March 7, 2017 -- The Santa Monica City Council is set to approve plans Tuesday to restore the historic lobby of the old post office on 5th Street now owned by a media production company.

Built 79 years ago, the remnant of the New Deal-era built closed in 2013 as part of massive cuts nationwide imposed by the U.S. Postal Service to survive financial crisis.

“Overall, the scope of work maintains the integrity of the historic lobby and enhances the historic character of the lobby,” said City Planning Director David Martin in recommending the restoration plans of the property’s current owner, Skydance Productions.

Santa Monica Post Office LobbyPhoto courtesy of LA Conservancy

The work will be done in accordance with a “preservation covenant” and the City’s landmarks ordinance, he said. The issue is a consent item on the council’s agenda, which is typically reserved for uncontroversial matters.

According to Martin’s report to the council, the covenant (which was attached to the grant deed) “ensures protection of the property’s historic integrity, and that its distinct features and finishes will be retained, including those found in the historic interior lobby space.”


That includes the original hanging light fixtures, marble wainscot, horizontal wood walls and ceilings, metal staircase rails and tall tables.

The branch, at 1248 5th Street, was built in 1938 by the Works Progress Administration (PWA), a massive public-works program under President Franklin D. Roosevelt to put Americans to work as the U.S. struggled to recover from the Great Depression.

Indicative of the era’s Moderne style of architecture, the building was just one floor, with a mezzanine and basement.

USPS shuttered hundreds of community post offices across the country and imposed other cuts in 2012 when facing rising red ink it said was caused by the recession, an increase in online communications and other employee-related costs.

Santa Monica preservationists rallied to keep the downtown post office open. Its last day of operation was June 29, 2013. Customers were sent to a new location on Seventh Street, north of Olympic Boulevard ("Historic Santa Monica Post Office Closes Next Week," June 21, 2013).

Skydance, a film and television production company, bought the property in December of 2013 and plans to adapt and use it as “creative” office space ("Commission Denies, Then Approves Santa Monica Post Office Conversion," April 25, 2016).

The lobby will be a visitor reception area and a commissary for on-site employees and guests. Because the lobby is governed by a preservation covenant, the council must give permission for any alteration.

Martin said Skydance has hired preservation architect, Chattel, Incorporated, “who has achieved a sensitive design approach that balances corporate prerequisites with historic sensitivity, and provides assurance that the project complies with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.”

Proposed changes include an addition on the rear of the building and two interior atria to “bring in more natural light and air,” the Santa Monica Conservancy said.

The organization said one atrium reaches from the basement to the roof and the other from the first floor to the roof.

Changes to the rear and interior of the building will "accommodate the addition of an enlarged second floor, a partial third floor and a roof terrace with the existing parapet serving as a guardrail.

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