Nearly two years after the Postal Service closed Ukiah's historic downtown post office, it remains shuttered and has become increasingly derelict in appearance.
"This is exactly what people were afraid of, that it would become a blighted building in the middle of Ukiah," said Alan Nicholson, a leader in the city's failed fight to save the post office from closure.
Its secretive and elusive owners promise the building will be rehabilitated and put to good use, but they have dodged detection as dried weeds and litter have overtaken the grounds. The only apparent work conducted since the building was purchased in August 2012 is a green, 6-foot tall tarp-like fence. The barrier reportedly was intended to keep transients out but instead functions as a privacy screen for homeless people who frequent a nearby pocket park.
On Friday, the owners issued an email response to Press Democrat inquiries in which they said they had a plan to clean up and secure the property. The statement, issued through a spokesman, also stated the building eventually will serve as a live/work space for sustainable design and development. A timeline for improvements was not provided by the spokesman, Ukiah attorney Barry Vogel.
Ukiah City Councilman Benj Thomas said he has been dismayed by the current condition of the building and is hopeful the owners will do as they say.
Ukiah Mayor Doug Crane confirmed Friday that the owners have contacted his construction company about conducting cleanup and remediation.
City officials are no strangers to promises that have been slow to materialize.
For 25 years, the historic Palace Hotel has been sitting vacant and crumbling in the heart of downtown Ukiah. Periodic repairs and frequent promises by its owner have failed to substantially rehabilitate the decaying building.
"It has all the makings of being another Palace (Hotel)," Ukiah Planning Commissioner Judy Pruden has said of the post office.
When the Postal Service announced it would close the post office, Ukiah officials and residents tried to stop the move, saying it would harm the historic downtown district visually and economically. The Oak Street post office had served as a hub of activity and a draw to downtown since its construction in 1937.
Post office advocates were relieved and hopeful in August 2012 when the 11,200-square-foot Moderne-style building was purchased for $620,000.
But hope faded as time went on without visible progress and the owners refused to step forward to explain.
Secretary of State documents list the owner only as Steam Studio, LLC. The partnership lists Augustus Vujevich, of Marin County, as a member, but he referred all calls to a relative named Kate.
Kate answered the phone at the number he provided but said Vujevich was mistaken about her last name. She refused to divulge her full name and referred questions about her plans to Vogel.
Information about the Depression-era mural that once graced the post office walls has been more readily available.
The Postal Service removed "Resources of the Soil," the mural painted by well-known San Francisco artist Ben Cunningham, shortly after the post office was closed and sent it for cleaning and repair.
The work is complete, and the Postal Service soon will decide where it should be housed, said U.S. Postal Service spokesman James Wigdel. The city of Ukiah has applied to have the mural placed in the City Hall lobby.