Archive

Posts Tagged ‘history’

SOS USPS Oregon Art Deco Post Office for Sale

Eugene Post Office Up For Sale–Murals and All

I took some pictures of the Eugene Post Office and the context of its neighborhood, and would like to just give a few thoughts about why buildings should be preserved and reused, this structure’s situation to its environs, and some ideas for potential future use. I liked what Gary Jarvis, a local employee, gave as a reason why he did not want the building sold “That’s the face of the post office the community has come to know,”. Indeed, many post offices like this one in Eugene is a face of government once known, but now fading. Unfortunately, the United States Post Office is going to sell hundreds of buildings like these because the USPS just isn’t going to need as much capacity going forward. Yet, these structures are strikingly unique and immediately recognizable symbols of our civic culture. The facades and foyers, made up of expensive materials expertly executed, have value beyond the inner sorting rooms and empty offices (33,000 sq. ft. worth in the case of this building). It’s listed on the National Historic Register of Places, not just because of the larger architecture design of Gilbert Underwood, but due to the interior art murals by Carl Morris. It’s a quintessential example of FDR’s public works projects and an expression of optimism in government.

Walking around the building, as with many buildings from this time period,  the individually designed fixtures stand out. Objects such as the iron fences, window grills, and lamp posts–all of the kinds of details that once they disappear, the effect on an observer of the artifacts is simply impossible to replicate. People unconsciously pass by these sort of details everyday, but even if they aren’t consciously thinking about the history and culture these objects link to, I believe their existence alone can foster awareness within individuals of the cultural norms they participate in day-to-day. They remind people that societal conventions are invented and they have a role to play in their reinvention. From the solidity of iron materials with slight imperfections indicating the work of human hands, to a hanging lighting fixture patriotically marked with star, or a sign to the Nuclear Fallout Shelter that recalls for the psychologically of the long cold war period, and to the polished marble walls that are actually expression of common cause with Greek and Roman republican virtues–together they manifest continuity with the past and mnemonically mark the plans and labor of previous generations in our present consciousness. And by preserving, reusing, and ultimately enhancing the shared inheritance of these structures that link to the past, we are also creating a connection in our present time to the future. Only by renewing the old can our society hope to orient its present day efforts to long-term planning and goals.

As for the building itself, I believe much can be done with it once it finally loses all postal functions. There is a large addition of a mail sorting room, replete with docking bays for mail trucks. This large open floor plate area is strategically located in a neighborhood of several successful historic buildings being commercially reused, and near the train station, so altogether is very well positioned to survive.

The foyer of the building is beautiful in some of its finishes. However, I have noticed that the immediate surroundings are perhaps already high on public uses. There is a prison, and a probation office, and several other social services leasing office space near adjacent to the post office already.  Eugene already has a very crowded indoor farmer’s and crafts market in their convention space on the other side of town, but its only accessible by car. The location of the post office is eminently walkable to many businesses on Fifth and Sixth Avenue, including the performing arts theater and the Hilton Hotel. The area is prime for more dense residential structures in the future, and even if rail doesn’t becomes more a popular  commuting choice, the location is near the highway, a new bikepath to the river and its parks, and some of the best restaurants and shops in town (I’ve found it peculiar that these things coexist at ease so closely to the prison, but they do. I suspect this is an East-West culture shock moment). Indeed, this region between Fifth Street and the Train Tracks and 6th Ave, is taking on a more lively downtown center feeling than, well, the current CBD which is quiet, dead, and slightly menacing in character, but only a short if unpleasant walk across Rt. 126. The city has labored hard over decades to revive the downtown, but really I think there should be a shift in priority to this area, where although there are some vacancies indicative of the current economic situation, there is positive activity year-round and at night. Nighttime bars, restaurants, a movie house, an overabundance of parking (ripe for development), bookstores, gift stores, apparel shopping like Buffalo exchange, lunch hour traffic from the Federal court houses, and several home goods stores.

If the area were to be developed more densely with more residential uses, I think the Post Office is an excellent candidate for relocating the Thursday and off-weather Farmer’s Market. Currently, the indoor markets at Lane County Fairgrounds, are entirely self-contained affairs with little to no spillover effects. Personally, I think once the Post Office is at last completely finished with the building, it should be turned over to the city for a rehab. Punch out the ceiling of the mail room to bring in some light and expand the feeling inside, and move some of these successful markets into the post office, where their traffic can spill over and effect the large amount of local businesses in the area and improve the viability of more, dense residential structures (the ability to walk to a farmer’s market for food is highly desirable for people who want to walk, bicycle, or perhaps in the future, take the train to work). This is an attractive, interesting area, and is more likely to vitalize downtown from the outside-in, rather than trying to shoehorn things into the unappealing, lifeless buildings and streets of downtown.

The other local venue that could serve as a model is the W.O.W. Hall—

only that structure simply isn’t as nice.

Adjacent Restaurant and Residential structures near Train Tracks and PO

Amtrak Station Visible from rear docking bay of PO

Rehabbed Ag. Warehouses are Popular Coffee HangOut and Store

View from Shop, Post Office on Right, Prison Off shot to Left

Loading Docks for Future Indoor Farmer's and Flea Market?

Advertisements

Whither the Foundation — On Would Be Real World Hari Seldons

February 26, 2010 1 comment

Quick post. This NY times op-ed by Piers Brendon really got me thinking about Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and his invention of “psychohistory”. Basically, that history as a social science that can accurately predict future events, remains at this moment just what it is in the Foundation series: a pseudoscience concept of science fiction.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/25/opinion/25brendon.html

The quote I’ve absolutely detested the most in my life and makes me cringe every blessed time I’ve heard it is “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it”.  As if that was the only reason to engage in study of history. As if there was such a possibility of history actually repeating itself. I agree with Twain that it does not repeat, but at “best it often rhymes”.

I know I do the quote no credit by reacting only to those who have misinterpreted it; that the author meant only to make a pithy statement to the wisdom that can be gleamed through the exposure to experiences of previous generations. Yet, whether its a neo-con citing Neville Chamberlain for the umpteenth time or Paul Kennedy and the fates of empires, it’s useful to remember how history works as a useful guide in decision making and when its just a gimmicky crutch of the intellectually weak.

Explaining when it is useful is a meditation that deserves more than this blog post, but some signs that historical precedent is being used as a gimmick:

A) One to one analogy. By this I mean, a type of logic that is very similar to people look for and find “signs of the beast” or who share the same superstitious understanding of the laws of probability as a gambler. Basically, they mistake present coincidence with past events as a legitimate way to make prophecy.

B) They mention Hitler or the Roman Empire. Usually a clue just because of their overuse

C) An insistence that if something has failed in the past, that it cannot work in the future, no matter the change in circumstances. We have far more to fear from this attitude then those who say “we do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it”. Even if human progress is itself a delusory, historical intellectual construction, those who would use historical instruction as an argument for stagnation are missing the point of endeavoring in its study in the first place.

This last point is the most important for this blog. Stagnation of thought and deed are things to guard against, and in my negative appraisals of things like Great Society era public works architecture I never wish to convey the idea that the past should be read as one long warning. Rather, I believe it to be inspirational, especially in revisiting failures.