Blog Archives

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.]

Has Phoenix finally arrived? Feel the love.

[Source: Robrt L. Pela, Phoenix New Times] — In Jason Hill’s Phoenix, the sun never sets.  His paintings of the city — a vibrant Valley National Bank framed by a glowing sky; a dazzling Financial Center with a jet jauntily speeding past — are thousand-watt, high-color beacons that send the same, simple, not-so-subliminal message: Phoenix is cool.  Come see for yourself.

Laura Spalding’s paintings are more roundabout celebrations of our town.  Onto old Arizona license plates and tin trays, she paints skies cluttered with telephone poles and electrical wires.  Her cityscapes are testimonies to how amazing it is that Phoenix sprang up in the desert in the first place; homages to how it survived to become a prosperous, distinctive destination.

Georganne Bryant’s message is less subtle.  Onto black, cotton T-shirts that she sells at her midtown boutique, she has had a local T-shirt artist silk-screen this legend: Love Phoenix or Leave Phoenix.

Something has shifted.  Hill and Spalding and Bryant and dozens of others like them are having a public love affair with Phoenix.  They’re opening cafes and launching Web sites and creating art that speaks of their pride in a city that most of us have gotten pretty good at mocking.  Many of these folks would have us believe — and, perhaps, want to believe themselves — that we, the country’s fifth-largest city, have finally arrived.  That Phoenix has at last, after decades of false starts and near misses, awakened from a slumber that lasted way too long.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]