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Landmarks Commission Saves Santa Monica Bar, Will Study Post Office

Frank Gruber for Santa Monica City Council

Ted Winterer for City Council 2012

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Re-elect Robert Kronovet for Rent Control Board

Pico Business Improvement District
7th Annual Pico Festival
Sunday, October 28th

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

October 10, 2012 -- Santa Monica's Landmarks Commission looked at two historical buildings Monday, officially giving one landmark status while exploring their options regarding the Federally-owned post office on Fifth Street.

While the Commission decided unanimously to designate Chez Jay -- Santa Monica's storied watering hole -- a landmark, the future of the Depression-era post office building downtown remains uncertain.

With a consultant's report, staff recommendation and testimony from nearly 50 members of the public supporting the small, windowless bar as a landmark, commissioners agreed that Chez Jay represented an important piece of Santa Monica's history.

“We're very excited,” said Anita Fiondella, daughter of late Chez Jay founder, Jay Fiondella. “I've been coming here since I was nine years old.”Fiondella -- who is also a partial owner of the bar -- called Chez Jay “a bridge” between Santa Monica's past and present.

However, in the wake of the U.S. Postal Service's official announcement Friday that they would be selling the building that now houses Santa Monica's Fifth Street post office, the future of the 74-year-old building remains in limbo.

“The Commission could not designate it a landmark because it is Federal property,” said Carol Lemlein, president of the Santa Monica Conservancy.

However, section 106 of the Federal Historic Preservation Act requires that the sale of any Federally-owned historic property must include a preservation covenant.

“To date, those covenants written without local consultation have been very weak,” said Lemlein.

Santa Monica's Landmark Commission will seek an advisory role in drafting the covenant, but in order to be better prepared, they asked for a full consultant's report on the building.

Lemlein said that there is currently very little data on the building and a consultant's report would help the Commission to serve in an advisory position.

Though the exact date that the USPS would put the building up for sale is unknown, it will likely happen early next year at the latest.

Lemlein said that there are examples of municipalities that have designated historic post offices before the USPS sold them, like Glendale and South Gate. Though the Federal government isn't beholden to landmark designation, once the property changes hands, the new owner would be.

The USPS has been shutting down post offices around the country and selling the properties to help stem their financial troubles.
On August 1, the USPS defaulted on a $5.6 billion payment to the Federal government. The USPS defaulted on another $5.6 billion payment at the end of September.

Officials said that by closing the Fifth Street post office -- and relocating the services to Seventh Street and Olympic Boulevard -- the USPS will save $3 million in ten years.

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