1/13/2012: B3:PC: Customers use at the U.S. Post Office downtown in Ukiah, California on Thursday, January 12, 2012. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Historic Ukiah post office may become restaurant

Ukiah's historic downtown post office was sold Friday to a private company for $620,000, bringing a sense of relief to city leaders who feared it would be left vacant and blighted.

"I'm thrilled. Having it repurposed as soon as possible will be good for our downtown," said Ukiah Mayor Mary Anne Landis. The post office was closed to mail service in January, a victim of U.S. Postal Service budget cuts.

The future of the 11,200 square-foot Moderne-style building remained unclear Friday because the buyer has yet to come forward. However, sources in the restaurant business said the buyer is a woman who plans to turn the building into an eating establishment. She reportedly has hired a chef from another downtown restaurant.

The buyer is listed on county records only as Steam Studio, LLC. Its representative, Fort Bragg attorney Sean Hogan, declined to divulge his client's name.

Landis said almost any use of the defunct post office would be welcome. It currently sits empty and locked. The front lawn is brown.

Area residents fought the closure of the post office, saying it would create an economic hole in the historic downtown district, which already was suffering in the long economic downturn.

The 75-year-old post office on West Standley and North Oak streets drew traffic to the downtown area and served as a community hub. There had been a post office in downtown Ukiah since 1858. Mail services now are consolidated in what was the postal annex on the outskirts of Ukiah.

The Oak Street post office was inaugurated Jan. 30, 1937, according to documents supplied to the National Register of Historic Places. It was constructed of poured concrete and cost $72,315 to build. It was a product of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration.

Until last week, it included a Depression-era mural, "Resources of the Soil, painted by well-known San Francisco artist Ben Cunningham. U.S. Postal Service officials have sent it to Chicago to be cleaned and repaired. It will be returned to the community, officials said.

Whatever is in store for the post office building, it likely will first require extensive work. In their analysis justifying its closure, postal officials said the building needed $780,000 in repairs.

The owner must follow federal guidelines for historic buildings when making changes to the building. Any alterations to historic features require permission from the California Historic Preservation Agency, according to the preservation covenant attached to the sale.

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