You may recall that I had represented the National Post Office Collaborate in its litigation to compel the United States Postal Service to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act in its disposition of the Atlantic Station Stamford Post Office. The Atlantic Station post office was constructed in 1916 and is listed on the National Registry of Historic Sites. The Collaborate was successful (through the efforts of my predecessor counsel and friend Hal Hughes) to obtain a preliminary injunction to prevent sale of the building. See my earlier blog posting at http://blog.trill-envirolaw.com/2014/05/national-post-office-collaborate-et-al-v-patrick-r-donahue-et-al-oral-argument-opposition-motion-dismiss-public-trust-doctrine-claim/. Regrettably, however, after hearings on cross motions to dismiss and for summary judgment, the Court allowed the sale to move forward. Notwithstanding this setback, the Capelli Organization of White Plains, NY, which purchased the building and adjoining properties to construct high rise office and residential towers, has proven to be a developer with a “historical preservation conscience.”
I have inserted below a few pictures I took on my cellphone camera at the September 17, 2016 public meeting held at the old Stamford Post Office to update the community on efforts by the Capelli Organization, to preserve the original 1916 building and its 1935 annex.
The pictures do not do justice to several elements of the interior that will be preserved, such as the vaulted renaissance revival ceilings in the building lobby and the original bronze postal boxes, manufactured by Stamford’s own Yale and Towne, circa 1915. The 1935 annex is the location where Pitney Bowes perfected and first used its pioneering postage meter devices.
The meeting was moderated by Lynn Drobbin, chair of the Stamford Historic Preservation Advisory Commission who, in her introduction, referred to the Capelli Organization’s efforts as striving to preserve the original building and annex as well as many parts of the main building interior as a “living museum” that pays concrete– if not literal– tribute to the historic building and annex. Regrettably, while the Capelli efforts are much to be commended, there will be neither an actual museum nor an operational postal substation in the preserved building. Rather, while preserving open spaces and site lines the building interiors will apparently be put to use for retail and restaurant(s).
Historic Preservation Consultant Wes Haynes, who provided an expert witness affidavit on behalf of the National Post Office Collaborate in our lawsuit against the Postal Service seeking to require the agency to meet obligations under NEPA and NHPA before selling the building, made an interesting presentation about the history of the old post office building. The building was designed by Oscar Wenderoth who was the Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department and who also apparently designed both the Berkeley and Pasadena, CA post offices. The Neo-Renaissance design adopts themes from Palladio, particularly the 1537 Villa Rustica in Veneto, Italy. See pictures below of the Palladio building and a rendering of the Stamford Post office from the 1920s.
Note the tree on the portico—the building was designed “around” this and another tree just on the other side of the portico to preserve the natural history of the site, where at one time stood one of the grand houses of Stamford built in the 19th century. Two large concrete abutments on either side of the stairway to the portico were topped by huge lamps manufactured by Louis Tiffany and Company.
Judy Norisky of Stamford Historic Neighborhood Preservation stated that, as far as she could discover, Capelli’s commitment to building preservation (particularly its decision to preserve the 1935 annex) represents the first time that the developer of a historic post office has changed its placement of one of its buildings (here a multi-story residential tower) to preserve site lines of a historic building. Capelli’s architect, Elena Kaiman, apparently has a specialty in restoration/preservation of historic buildings and discussed her vision of preserving and enhancing historic ornate friezes on inside walls of the main structure. Lynn Drobin expressed a hope that the USPS would require the same principles of adaptive reuse sensitive to historic preservation to projects in the Bronx and at NYC’s James Farley Post Office.
View of the construction site (with 1935 annex at rear of building):
All-in-all, I was pleasantly surprised by the presentation w/re: the bottom line of preserving worthwhile historic buildings. It reminded me that at no time was the Capelli Organization the focus of our objections to the sale of the Stamford Post Office; rather it was the obstinate refusal of the Postal Service to provide guarantees for such preservation. It is a matter of serendipity that the Capelli Organization appears to be a responsible developer when it comes to such issues.
For questions about the Stamford Post Office matter or inquiries about how the Trilling Environmental Law Firm, LLC can be of assistance in either environmental or historic preservation matters, please do not hesitate to contact me.