Ever since moving to the Lake Merritt area, the Civic Center Post Office has become my go-to spot for mail pleasantries. It’s also become the subject of considerable day-dreaming whenever I’m waiting in line.
The interior, with it’s sprawling marble and cathedral ceilings, makes you feel as if you’ve been transported to another era. At the same time, it feels strangely retrofitted. As if the Postal Service realized they needed to change the layout, but couldn’t bring themselves to make substantial changes, so they crammed the new elements in where ever they could.
The question of how the building has changed over time led me to the Oakland History Room, where I found some fascinating history about the Civic Center Post Office. Before I figured out what the building used to be I discovered a whole bunch of other fun facts.
By the 1920’s Oakland’s post office had already outgrown 10 locations, and the latest headquarters at 17th and Broadway was, yet again, too small. So, it was time to knock that one down and build a new one. A committee of important people got together to figure out where they should build next.
The land bounded by Alice, Jackson, 12th, and 13th Streets was selected because of it’s proximity to downtown, the airport, the industrial section along the estuary, and East Oakland. A mixture of homes and apartment buildings occupied the space, so there was a heated debate over how much they should be compensated for their property. Ultimately, the federal government shelled out $550,000 for the land. The buildings were immediately razed and construction began in 1929.
The construction was repeatedly front page news. Clearly, Oakland was really pumped about its new Post Office. When the building was completed in 1932, with a final price tag of $1.5M, it warranted a parade.
Back to my initial inquiry, it turns out the building was a whole lot more than just the post office headquarters. US Customs, the IRS, Secret Service, War Dept., Dept of Labor, and a handful of courts all called the building home at back in ’32.
In looking through old photos I was able to find an old Tribune clipping with a photo of the lobby that spurred the initial inquiry. Turns out that a bunch of the service windows have been converted to enclaves for more PO boxes. I wish they would bring all the service windows back, and maybe the auditorium while they’re at it. Is that too much to ask?