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Downtown Phoenix’s Historic Post Office to be home of ASU Student Center

[Source:  Jack Fitzpatrick, Downtown]

Post office renovations to create student space

ASU is seeking students’ opinions on the $4.9 million renovation of a new campus space in downtown Phoenix’s historic U.S. Federal Post Office building.

ASU students and staff members discussed what should be done with the ASU-owned area of the post office at a meeting Friday with Holly Street Studio, the local architecture firm that will renovate the building. (Kristin Fankhauser/DD)

ASU students and staff members discussed what should be done with the ASU-owned area of the post office at a meeting Friday with Holly Street Studio, the local architecture firm that will renovate the building. (Kristin Fankhauser/DD)

The upcoming renovation will utilize a first-floor portion of the late 1930′s building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Because of the building’s historic status, many of its characteristics must stay true to their original nature.

ASU students and staff members discussed what should be done with the area at a meeting Friday with Holly Street Studio, the local architecture firm that will renovate the building.

The meeting included group discussions about students’ wants and needs, a tour of the space that will be renovated and a presentation of building blueprints by the architects.

Public policy and public service sophomore Marcus Jones, the student representative for the renovation project, said that despite the challenges of keeping the building true to its history, it will be possible to make the area functional for students’ needs.

“It needs to be to-date, but still incorporate historic concepts — (that) is what makes it the challenge, but I know it’s doable,” Jones said.

The goal for the area is to create a gathering center for students. Lockers, computers, a convenience store, a strong Wi-Fi connection and more space for student organizations were among the needs mentioned by students during a group discussion period. Students also discussed adding larger windows to open up the view to the nearby Civic Space Park.

Openness to the surrounding community and historic preservation were also prevalent topics in the meeting.

Dean of Student Affairs Georgeana Montoya mentioned the possibility of local transients using the space, especially if lockers are available, and brought up the possibility of making the area only accessible to ASU students. The building, however, would still function as a public post office.

ASU architect senior Patricia Olson mentioned dozens of “character-defining features” that legally have to be kept intact, including the four large skylights in the student area, the intricate accentuation at the entrances and the original murals, which represent a national trend of federally commissioned art during the Great Depression.

Olson said maintaining the historic accuracy of the building would contribute to students’ sense of community.

“History gives a sense of a tie to a larger social urban fabric,” Olson said. “Being in a building with this history … gives students a connection to their community.”

Jones agreed that ASU’s involvement in a historic building contributes to the goals of an urban campus.

“The historic feel sets us apart from everywhere else,” Jones said. “It does bring us that sense of community. We are the downtown community. That’s what sets us apart.”

All of the money used to renovate the building will come from a facilities fee, which has not yet been levied on students but was passed by ASASUD, ASASUD Vice President Jessica Abercrombie said.

Students are invited to attend another meeting on Friday, April 22, when the architects will present some initial concepts for the space.

Construction is roughly estimated to start October 2011 and end May 2012, although Montoya said various obstacles would likely push that deadline back to fall 2012.

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Correction: April 11

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Marcus Jones was a journalism major and that the portion of the post office that will be renovated was owned by ASU. Jones is a public policy and public service major and the building is owned by the City of Phoenix.

Historic downtown Phoenix post office to house classes and retail space

U.S. Post Office, downtown Phoenix (Photo source: Arizona State University)

[Source: Ray Stern, Phoenix New Times] — The 1930s-era post office on Central Avenue and Van Buren Street is preparing to undergo at least $2 million in renovation by its owner, Arizona State University, in collaboration with the city of Phoenix.  As New Times writer Robrt L. Pela explained a few months ago, the stylish building was purchased a few years back by ASU as part of its downtown campus development.  Although the post office will still operate out of the facility, plans call for adding retail, classroom, and activity space.  From an article from ASU’s Devil’s Apprentice:

“The current plan for the post office is to open up the first floor to the Civic Space and create a variety of spaces that could be used by both the public and the university,” [said Anne Gazzaniga of the Office of the University Planner].

ASU is currently working on a budget for the remodeling of the post office; working with $2 million for the first phase of remodeling.  Currently, the first phase is the only part of the plan in negotiations, other phases will be discussed later in the future.”

Hmm — this sounds much different than the type of changes planned when Pela spoke to the United States Post Office back in January:

After the university moved in, the only change made was the shifting of local carrier service from downtown to a nearby branch at 14th Street and Buckeye.  And the only future modifications ASU has planned are designed to benefit postal customers, not to alter or deface the interior of this historic structure.

“The window section will probably get new counters,” [USPS spokeswoman Donna] Spini mused, “and we’ve asked for a handicap stall for visitors who are doing business from a wheelchair.”

ASU has also approved every restoration effort the postal service has requested, even agreeing not to pull out my fave vintage glass-front postal boxes, despite ASU’s fears that the little windows promote identity theft.

“It seems like the stars are all coming together on this project,” Spini says.  “ASU is backing us on our plan to keep the post office here in all its original beauty. Sometimes, you can have your cake and eat it, too.”

It sounds like this cake will be slathered with too much frosting.  [Note: To read the full article and online comments, click here.]

Sending love letters to ASU for keeping N. Central Ave. post office

[Source: Robrt L. Pela, Phoenix New Times] — I fall in love with old buildings.  There’s that odd little Flintstonian office building at Third Street and Clarendon, whose comically prehistoric rock-and-mortar façade stole my heart years ago.  For a while, I had as my screensaver a photograph of the impossibly tiny stone cottage I drive past when I’m visiting Provence.  And there’s the little clapboard Victorian in Ohio that I fell hard for in 1976, whose dilapidated beauty I attempted to capture that year in an awesomely awful acrylic painting.

In Phoenix, my heart belongs to the downtown post office at 522 North Central Avenue.  I love the stone steps leading up to the front door, over which a giant lantern sways in front of an elaborate glass-and-grillwork that’s framed by concrete columns on either side.  Inside there are ancient (and rather cheesy) Southwestern-themed murals, commissioned in 1938 by the Fine Arts Section of the Treasury Department and painted by La Verne Black and Oscar E. Berninghaus, that I always breeze past on my way to the rows of ancient P.O. boxes with their coppery metal doors, oversize keyholes, and little glass windows etched with gold and red numbers in an old-timey font.

Built between 1932 and 1936, the two-story structure’s maiden name is The Phoenix Federal Building, as its construction was part of a massive federal program undertaken in an attempt to forestall the Great Depression.  The gorgeous Spanish Colonial Revival building, which opened to the public in 1936 and housed the city’s main post office for more than 30 years, is the only federal building from the period still standing here.  And I love it.  I go out of my way to drive past it, especially early in the day, when one can park in front of this big, beautiful building and ogle like mad.

Of course, I panicked when I read a couple of years ago that ASU had purchased the building for use in its new downtown campus. It would serve as a gathering place for students as well as housing the administrative offices of some ASU executives and the ASU police. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]