Modesto CA


Vigil in Modesto: Auction ends today, and whoever wins, we all lose

August 4, 2011

The post office on 1125 I Street in Modesto, California, closed on June 3, 2011, and it’s been up for auction since June 9th.  The bidding ends in a few hours, on Aug. 4 at 5:41 p.m. central time.  Whoever wins this auction, we’re all going to come out losers.  The Modesto post office is a national treasure, and it’s a crime that the government has seen fit to sell it off. 

So far there have been four bidders, and as of early this morning, the going price is $650,000.   (The bidding deadline keeps getting extended, so check for Updates at the end of this post.)  There may be a flurry of last-minute bidding, but if the price is anything like this, that only makes the crime worse.  Similar post offices in Palm Beach, Florida, and Westport, Connecticut, have sold for over $3 million.  You can follow the bidding today to its sad final moment on the website of the GSA auctions page—it’s featured in the slide show at the top.

Also known as the Modesto Federal Building and the El Viejo, the building was always occupied by a post office, but in 1967 work on a new postal facility was completed and downtown Modesto was demoted from a main post office to station status.  Workers were transferred to the new facility, leaving behind only a small retail operation.  Other agencies, like the IRS, occupied the empty space, and custody of the building transferred from the Office of the Post Office to the General Services Administration in 1968.  It’s the GSA that’s conducting today’s auction.

The post office contains nine original wall murals in the lobby, commissioned by the Treasury Relief Arts Project. The oil paintings were done in 1937 by Ray Boynton, with the assistance of several local artists, and they depict agricultural scenes: plowing, sorting and harvesting grapes; irrigating orchards; meat and cheese packing; grain harvesting and feeding cows. 

In 1989, the GSA commissioned an historic structures study, apparently with the intention of restoring the building.  At almost 100 pages, the report contains a wealth of information.  Planning on the building began in 1913, a site was purchased in 1916, an appropriations bills to pay for it was defeated in Congress in 1919, a subsequent appropriation bill was approved in 1930, and it was finally completed in 1933. 

Its design and construction were supervised by James Wetmore, Acting Supervising Architect for the Treasury Department.  Wetmore gets the official credit for designing hundreds of public buildings in the 1930s, although there are only a few of them in California. The post office was the first civil federal structured erected in Modesto.

As the historic structure report states, “The Modesto Federal Building’s architectural significance and generally excellent condition demand a sensitive approach to the conservation of its remaining building fabric.  At the same time, it must be realized that the building will continue to function as an active public building.” 

Unfortunately, the report got that wrong.  It’s unlikely that the El Viejo is going to remain an active public building.  Non-profit groups, working through county officials, did express interest in buying the building, but the GSA decided to auction it to the highest bidder.  It will probably turn into a real estate office (as in Palm Beach) or a clothing store (as in Greenwich CT).

Modesto Update: Going, going

July 5, 2011

The New Deal post office (1933) in Modesto CA is being auctioned off, and you can follow the bidding action on the General Services Administration (GSA) auction site (it's one of the featured properties at the top).  The auction started on June 9, with a minimum opening bid of $100,000.  As of July 5, three bidders were competing, and the high bid was $350,000.  The GSA site doesn't say when the bidding will be closed, so you'd better get yours in soon.  The site has some nice photos of the New Deal murals in the building. 

The Modesto post office story is another case where the Postal Service gradually emptied  the building of all but a small retail operation, and then declared it  was under-utilized, obsolete, and needed to be sold.  Non-profit groups, working through county officials, have expressed interest in buying the building, but the GSA says it will go to the highest bidder.  The GSA can decline the top bid if it doesn't reach the appraised fair market value, which the GSA won't disclose.  Other New Deal post offices have sold for millions—one in Palm Beach FLh went for $3.7, and another in Westport CT, for $3.6 million.

(More on the story here, and a TV news report, here.)

(Photo credit: Modesto po)

Historic Post Office in Modesto, CA: For Sale

May 5, 2011

The post office in Modesto, California, was built by the New Deal in 1933, under the supervision of James Wetmore, who was responsible for "designing" hundreds of public buildings in the 1930s.  As the Modesto Bee relates, the post office contains nine original wall murals in the lobby, commissioned by the Treasury Relief Arts Project. The oil paintings were done in 1937 by Ray Boynton, with the assistance of several local artists, and they depict agricultural scenes: plowing, sorting and harvesting grapes; irrigating orchards; meat and cheese packing; grain harvesting and feeding cows.

The Modesto post office closed this week, and now the building is for sale.  It will be auctioned off on June 9, opening bid, $100,000.  (More on the story here, and a TV news report, here.)

(Vintage post card credit; mural.)

UPDATE: June 15, 2011: "Bidding begins on Modesto post office": "Online bidding to buy downtown Modesto's historic post office started a week ago, but only one hopeful buyer has bid. The minimum opening bid of $100,000 was placed by an undisclosed person the morning bidding opened."

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