Bronx Post Office Sold to Developer

Ben Shahn and Bernarda Bryson Mural at the Bronx Post Office

Ben Shahn Mural at the Bronx Post Office
“America at Work” is one of thirteen murals in the Bronx post office

Despite vigorous protest by the public and public officials, the Bronx General Post Office has been sold. Valued at $14 million, the building reportedly was sold to Korean developer Young Woo & Associates for an undisclosed sum. The U.S. Postal Service has not made an official announcement about the sale and has declined to provide details.

“The United States Postal Service has sold one of the Bronx’s most important community and historic treasures in a completely irresponsible manner,” Bronx Congressman Jose Serrano said. “The USPS has disregarded the voices of the Bronx community, elected officials, historic preservationists, and their own employees—all of whom opposed this process and this sale.”

In 2013 the Postal Service announced its intention to sell the massive Bronx Post Office in order to “right-size our retail operation into smaller leased space,” according to Joseph Mulvey, a real estate specialist for the Postal Service.

The Bronx General Post Office

The Bronx General Post Office
Built in 1935, the Bronx post office is the largest of twenty-nine Depression-era post offices in New York City

The four-story Moderne Bronx Post Office was built in 1935 as part of a Treasury Department program to employ out-of-work architects, artisans, and artists. It is one of more than a thousand post offices constructed during FDR’s presidency. At 175,000 square-feet, it is the largest of twenty-nine Depression-era post offices in New York City.

Two sculptures by Charles Rudy and Henry Kreis adorn the outside of the massive building. The lobby contains thirteen murals, entitled “America at Work, painted in 1937 by American artists Ben Shahn and his wife Bernarda Bryson. Shahn (1898-1969), a prolific artist, is known for his works of social realism. His works appear in several government buildings in Washington, D.C. and are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, and the Museum of the City of New York.

The Postal Service has faced severe criticism of its disposal of its historic properties, many of which contain artworks intended for the public that paid for them. Last year the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the lobby of the Bronx Post Office and its murals a historic landmark to give them some protection in the event of a sale.

Exterior of the Bronx Post Office

Exterior of the Bronx Post Office
Charles Rudy and Henry Kreis sculptures decorate the landmark building

The U.S. Postal Service receives no public funds, yet in a push to privatize the agency, Republicans in Congress enacted legislation in 2006 requiring the U.S. Postal Service to prepay 75-years of benefits to postal workers within ten years. Without that $5.6 billion prepayment, the USPS would have made a profit of over $600 million last year.

Postal officials have insisted that they must sell thousands of post offices in order to fix the cash-strapped agency. Local opposition to the sale of many post offices led Congress to appoint the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) to look into the matter. In April 2014 the Council recommended  that the Postal Service refrains from selling historic post offices until it improves its program and procedures.

The international real estate firm CBRE has the exclusive contract to sell “surplus” post office properties. Until recently, the chairman of the board of CBRE was Richard Blum, the husband of Senator Dianne Feinstein. Blum stepped down as chairman in May, but continues to be a major stockholder. The USPS Inspector General is looking into whether CBRE may be selling postal facilities to its partners at below-market prices at the Postal Service’s expense. Young Woo & Associates, the Korean developer that purchased the Bronx Post Office has done several deals with CBRE. According to Save the Post Office, CBRE CEO Robert Sulentic also serves on the board of directors of Staples, where a pilot program has been underway to see if the Postal Service could cut costs by outsourcing retail services to big box stores.

“It’s not clear why the Postal Service is so reluctant to share information about the sale of the Bronx Post Office, what it sold for, what the plans are, or where the postal retail operation is relocating,” says NYU professor Steve Hutkins, whose Save the Post Office website has been bird-dogging the sell off of the nation’s post offices. Save the Post Office, among the many organizations objecting to the sale. In April, a coalition of elected officials that included New York Mayor Bill De Blasio and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer urged that the sale be put on hold. Congressman José Serrano introduced legislation to halt the sales until the Postal Service implements the ACHP recommendations. Hundreds of concerned citizens and postal workers turned out at a public hearing to oppose the sale.

Because the USPS will divulge nothing about the sale of its public property, its fate and that of its great murals remains unclear.

Susan Ives is communications director for the Living New Deal and editor of the Living New Deal newsletter.

For Sale: America’s Historic Post Offices

Citizens protest at the Downtown Berkeley Main Post Office

Citizens protest at the Downtown Berkeley Main Post Office
Berkeley, California


Despite growing public protest, the U.S. Postal Service is moving apace to sell the public’s historic post offices. Last month, the Postal Service added four more post offices on the National Register of Historic Places to its “For Sale” list: California’s La Jolla Wall Street Post Office, built in 1935; New York City’s Old Chelsea Station on West 18th Street, and the Bronx General Post Office on the Grand Concourse, both built in 1937; and the Berkeley Downtown Post Office, which, in spite of a year long campaign to keep the century-old building in the public domain, was recently slated for sale.

Like many other endangered post offices, these buildings contain unique New Deal artworks.

During the 1930s the federal government put thousands to work building the nation’s postal system.  In big cities and small towns alike, New Deal post offices are among the most artful, architecturally distinguished, and beloved buildings.

The thirteen murals in the Bronx Post Office created by New Deal artists Ben Shahn and Bernarda Bryson are considered masterpieces.

The Bronx Post Office
The thirteen murals in the Bronx Post Office created by New Deal artists Ben Shahn and Bernarda Bryson are considered masterpieces.

“Apparently the country is done with that kind of idealism,” notes Gray Brechin, geographer and Living New Deal Project scholar, “Rather than building beautiful public places, the federal government is selling them off.”

Buildings on the National Register of Historic Places are afforded some protection—their exterior must be preserved. But once sold the buildings are often gutted. In at least one case, a 1937 post office in Virginia Beach, Virginia was demolished to make way for a Walgreen’s pharmacy.

The National Historic Preservation Act ensures public access to public artwork, but when post offices are sold the murals and sculptures often are removed to storage. Even when the art remains in place, it’s up to the new owners whether the public may view it.

The Postal Service financial crisis started in 2006 when Congress required the Postal Service to pre-pay 75 years of workers’ benefits within ten years. Although many blame email for the Postal Service’s demise, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 is responsible for $4 out of every $5 in Postal Service debt—more than $15 billion in 2012. In response, the Postal Service is cutting services and selling many of its most valuable properties.

CB Richard Ellis, a giant commercial real estate firm, holds the exclusive contract to sell postal properties worth billions. CB Richard Ellis’ chairman is Richard Blum, a University of California Regent and the husband of California Senator Dianne Feinstein. So far, the press has shown no interest in investigating how that contract was awarded, nor its terms.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced legislation to repeal the law responsible for the Postal Service’s death spiral. The bill recently passed the Senate but the other has yet to be voted on in the House.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation named the Historic Post Office to its list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places of 2012.

Read Francis O’Connor’s open letter about post office art »

For a list of endangered post offices go to:

Susan Ives is communications director for the Living New Deal and editor of the Living New Deal newsletter.