City board denies Midway Post Office historical status
by DAVE SCHWAB
Published - 11/26/16 - 12:05 PM | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Former Midway Post Office.
Former Midway Post Office.
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A proposal to have the former Midway Post Office designated historical because of its architectural style was defeated by a 3-3-1 vote of the city's Historical Resources Board (HRB) on Nov. 17.

It takes six votes of the 11-member Historical Resources Board advisory board, which is appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council, to have a structure declared historical.

Since 1970, the City of San Diego has had an active and growing preservation program for both historical and archaeological resources. From 2000 to 2003, 260 individual sites and six historical districts, containing 318 contributing sites, have been designated by the Historical Resources Board (HRB).

Attorney Scott A. Moomjian representing the applicant, SteelWave of Orange County, a full-service, commercial and residential real estate management firm attempting to purchase the former Midway Post Office property at 2535 Midway Drive now in escrow, said, “We didn't think the building was a good example of the Brutalist style of architecture considering its young age – less than 45. We felt the HRB did the appropriate thing in not designating it.”

According to Wikipedia, Brutalist architecture is a movement that flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s. The term originates from the French word for "raw." The architectural style is characterized by its ruggedness and lack of concern to look comfortable or easy. Brutalism can be seen as a reaction by a younger generation to the lightness, optimism and frivolity of some 1930s and 1940s architecture.

Moomjian noted a recently completed full historical analysis of the potential historicity of the former post office concluded “the building was not eligible for historical designation under any of the local criteria. They took a closer look at it and concluded the building was not a good example (of Brutalism).”

The attorney added the post office itself is “commemorative, not historical,” being located on the former Dutch Flats airport site where the Spirit of St. Louis was built for Charles Lindburgh and first tested.

The non-designation of the post office by HRB came as good news to Midway Community Planning Group (MCPG). In October, the city advisory group turned thumbs down on the former post office being declared historical.

“While the land on which the building sits has historical significance in terms of early aviation activities, the building itself does nothing to support or add to that significance,” said Cathy Kenton, MCPG chair, in a letter to the HRB. “All present agreed that the building detracts from and blocks appreciation of any historical significance of the land with respect to its Dutch Flats aviation times.”

Kenton noted city staff's initial report indicating the post office designation should be made to preserve its alleged Brutalism architecture “completely ignores the consultant’s findings that the building is predominantly of the ‘International Style' with Brutalism-style features, and does not qualify. … It is clear this building has not drawn any degree of attention from any Brutalism advocacy or others focused on this subject despite being in clear view for more than four decades. If this were a structure of any significant historical importance, there would surely be mention of it beyond the scant Internet entries that discuss only its recent sale and possible future uses.”

Once the central mail-processing facility for all of San Diego County, the Midway facility, built in 1979, had become too small for that purpose by the early 1990s. Mail processing was then moved 20 miles north to the Margaret L. Sellers Processing Center on Rancho Carmel Drive.

More than a year ago, Rexford Industrial Realty Inc. of Los Angeles acquired the former U.S. Postal Service annex facility in San Diego’s Midway district for $19.3 million, with plans to redevelop the property into new industrial spaces. The property consists of two buildings with a total of 373,000 rentable square feet on 16 acres, near the Valley View Casino Center in northern Point Loma.

Attorney Moomjian said SteelWave is contemplating a mixed-use development for the former Midway Post Office, which could include a residential component.

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