By Greta Cobar
We as Venetians are upholding our reputation of not giving up. So here’s the latest on our up-and-going, not-nearly-over fight with the United States Postal Service (USPS) and the new owner of our former, historic post office, Joel Silver.
The Story of Venice mural by renowned artist Edward Biberman, formerly housed in our historic post office, remains the property of the USPS even though the building has been sold into private ownership. Ever since the sale of the building, which closed on August 2, we have tirelessly tried to obtain a copy of the covenant concerning the mural between Silver and the USPS. Both Bill Rosendahl’s and Janice Hahn’s offices made vain promises of obtaining the document and making it public. It took a Freedom of Information Act request filed by a Mark Ryavek to finally view the document four months after the sale of the building.
The document, dated August 2, starts out by optimistically stating that “USPS agrees to loan the Mural to the Borrower, and the Borrower agrees to borrow the Mural from the USPS, for the purpose of exhibiting the Mural for a term of fifty (50) years.” However, through undisclosed maneuvering with the USPS, Silver managed to add a “First Amendment to Loan Agreement” on August 21, which states that “Borrower agrees to provide public access to the Mural six days per calendar year during the hours of 10 am and 6pm Pacific Time by appointment.”
There goes the request by the Coalition to Save the Post Office, representing virtually all Venice organizations and a wide spectrum of citizens, to maintain access to the mural during the same hours as the USPS had back when it owned the building.
In addition, although the initial loan agreement states that “prior to any such restoration (of the Mural), the Borrower shall send notice to the USPS of the proposed restoration for USPS review and approval,” the August 21 amendment negates any such responsibility by stating that “Borrower shall not be obligated, prior to any Mural restoration, to obtain the approval by the USPS of the proposed restoration provided.”
No wonder Silver was able to remove the mural from the wall in spite of expert and community opposition.
I personally filed an official request with the Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) to introduce a motion to move the mural depicting Abbot Kinney from Silver’s property, which does not allow public viewing, to a public space, such as the Abbot Kinney Library. Let’s hope that the VNC will represent the wishes of the community on this issue, and let’s hope that their recommendation will actually have the power to make a difference.
The battle against the USPS is still being fought on more than one front. A new brief was filed on December 19 in Washington DC in our lawsuit against the USPS. The Circuit Court has combined our case with two others, involving Pimmit Branch Post Office in Northern Virginia and the Spring Dale, West Virginia Post Office, all represented by Elaine Mittleman.
The current brief submitted by Mittleman quotes the USPS as stating, in its own document, that “to maintain the spirit of the section in placing artwork in Post Offices, postal policy provides for the relocation of these works into the new facility when a Post Office moves so the art can continue to enrich people during the normal course of their lives” (http://1.usa.gov/12RK0kW).
Although our new mini, hole-in-the-wall post office at the mail sorting annex does not currently have enough space to exhibit the Biberman artwork, the original building has a very high ceiling. With minor modifications the current ceiling could be raised to accommodate the mural. However, after our one-way communications with the USPS over the past two years, we might choose to avoid dealing with them and move the mural to the Library instead.
“The Postal Service will include measures to ensure the mural will remain available for public viewing in any plan for reuse or disposal of the Post Office property” is a commitment that the Final Decision about the Venice Post Office included, according to the latest brief filed by Mittleman in Washington DC.
The Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), whose mission is to represent the public in dealing with the USPS, “failed to consider the commitment by the Postal Service that the mural will remain available for public viewing. In addition, the PRC did not address the historic preservation issues concerning the Venice Post Office and the mural,” according to the brief submitted by Mittleman.
Yes, we are taking on a big, federal institution whose mission seems to be self-destruction in favor of private shipping companies behind the excuse of a manufactured crisis. And yes, we are taking on Silver, the multi-millionaire Hollywood producer who was recently kicked out of Burbank and decided that Venice is hipper. It doesn’t make sense for Silver to keep the mural after removing it from the wall, without provisions for public access. Could we get the building back? If through our current lawsuit we can prove that the USPS or the PRC failed to follow procedures when disposing of our historic post office, the USPS would have to buy the building back from Silver and re-instate postal services.
Please contact the VNC at firstname.lastname@example.org and urge that the motion to move the Biberman mural to the Library be placed on the January VNC Agenda. Then get involved by attending the VNC meeting on January 15 at 7pm at Westminster Elementary School, 1010 Abbot Kinney Blvd.