Saturday, September 5, 2015

4, 3, 2, 1... Counting Down the Number of Post Offices in Titusville, Florida

Browsing the Post Mark Collectors Club (PMCC)'s vast trove of post office photos can sometimes lead to some interesting discoveries. This realization came after reviewing a recently uploaded photograph contributed by GP friend Steve Bahnsen, who recently explored dozens of post offices in Florida and who noted that one of my photos from the region was mislabeled. Back in 2009 I took I-95 from New York City to south Florida, stopping at two post offices in Titusville along the way. Why Titusville? Memories of Space Camp, of course! Titusville is located right by Cape Canaveral on Florida's eastern shore. Well clearly it's postmark time! But disappointingly, three of Titusville's post offices have been closed in recent years.

A post office in the community had been established in 1859 by the name of Sand Point. The name stuck until the community was redesignated Titusville, although Titusville's website informs us that the town could have been differently renamed:
Today's "Titusville" might have been known as "Riceville" except for the craftiness of Col. Titus who won a challenge match of dominoes against Capt. Clark Rice to determine which player got to rename the town. Thus the outcome of a domino game resulted in Sand Point becoming Titusville, Florida in 1873.
What struck me about the PMCC's collection of post offices in Titusville is that it shows us just how much USPS's footprint can evolve (or disappear) from a community over time. In this case the PMCC has images of four post offices in Titusville over the past 20 years, though now only one is still in existence. The main post office remains but the three stations, including the two I visited in 2009, have since closed. And that's a shame for a growing community of 44,000 that encompasses 30 square miles and stretches more than 10 miles from north to south. Presented are the PMCC's photos as well as more recent Google Street Views of two of the discontinued sites. And, as always, here's a map!

Post office map of Titusville, Florida

Titusville, FL: Main Post Office, 2015; courtesy S. Bahnsen.

Located at 2503 S Washington Ave., Titusville's Main Post Office is located right along the Indian River, with its parking lot bordering the body of water.

Titusville, FL: Astronaut Trail Station post office, 2003; courtesy J. Gallagher. Discontinued.

Address: 5 Main St. Titusville's Astronaut Trail Station is located in the heart of the original downtown Titusville, also rather near the Indian River (and two miles north of the Main Post Office). Google Street View confirms that this post office closed by 2011. Imagery shows the former post office operating as a real estate office. A banner on the front of the building was advertising deals on foreclosed properties.

(FYI: Google Street View imagery for this site dates back to 2007, if someone would be interested in deciphering some of the project's very grainy early images.)

Titusville, FL: Indian River Station post office, 2009. Discontinued.

Address: 686 Cheney Hwy. Located a 3.1-mile drive from the Main Post Office, Google shows this pink-façade building in a shopping plaza vacant in May 2015.

Titusville, FL: Titusville Station post office, 2009. Discontinued.

Address: 1538 Harrison St. Located in another shopping plaza, Street View shows this post office operational in 2011. This was the closest station to the Main Post Office (a distance of 1.2 miles).

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Reading All About It—Post Office Returns to Kansas Town After Four Years

(Updated Sept. 12, 2015: Added a new photo, modest update, and link to image of destroyed post office from 2011.)

Four years ago the 200-plus-person community of Reading, Kansas was devastated. On May 21, 2011, a tornado struck the community, killing one, flattening dozens of homes, and taking with it most of the village's business district, including the post office. (An image of the aftermath, taken by Jim Saueressig, can be found here.) USPS operations in Reading were immediately suspended; worse, the cessation of services was unlikely to be purely temporary. Some veteran readers of this blog might recall that the Postal Service was considering the closure of 3,700 [mostly rural] post offices, and Reading faced the outright discontinuance of its post office.

Reading is located in Lyon County, Kansas, about an hour's drive south-southwest of Topeka and 25 minutes northeast of Emporia. Here's a map. Note not only the location of Reading but also that of Lebo. Lebo is the site of the nearest post office to Reading.

Reading's postal operations had been relocated to Lebo after the tornado, and to reach it Reading residents had to undertake a 26-mile, 40-minute round-trip drive. At the end of 2011 the change was likely to be permanent. Imagine needing to take to the road for nearly an hour to purchase some stamps or access your mail! Reading residents had the option of picking up their mail at P.O. Boxes in Lebo or installing their own mailboxes to receive mail delivery service by rural carrier. (Note: Reading's rural carriers were also moved to, and continue to operate from, Lebo.)

Topeka's Capital-Journal newspaper has been covering the story for four years, and by mid-2011 the story was bleak. The town's post office had been in operation since the community's founding in 1870, and the story was likely to end right there. The tornado took with it two rich pieces of Reading's heritage: the post office and the historic 1915 building that had most recently housed it. Here is a photo of the Reading post office by John Gallagher taken in 2001, and part of the PMCC's massive Online Post Office Photo Collection:

Reading, KS post office, 2001

Residents of Reading refused to give up their fight to save the post office, and in Sept. 2011 the Capital-Journal reported that the USPS's formal discontinuance survey of the Reading post office had been suspended, "due to the unwavering efforts of Sen. Jerry Moran and Sen. Pat Roberts, along with all of the other folks who have written, called and emailed" in their efforts to save the Reading post office.

After some (presumably) bureaucratic stagnation the Capital-Journal reported in 2014 that Postal Service officially stated its intention to reopen the post office in Reading. A new, small site (merely 700 square feet in area) was sought at which to open a new postal facility.

The decision was made to site the new post office at the community's old town hall. The building is located just across the street from the former post office building, which has since been demolished. A 2009 Google Street View photo shows the two facilities, both located along 1st Street; in the view shown below the former post office (1915 building) can be seen at the left while the then-future site of the post office can be seen across the street (at right).

The results of the efforts on behalf of both the community and the USPS have since borne fruit: the new Reading post office reopened in June at the old town hall. According to the (who else?) Capital-Journal "a USPS construction crew has renovated the building, installing new heating and air-conditioning systems, upgrading the bathroom to meet USPS standards and erecting a new flag pole and lighted post office sign." The improvements at the front of the building also include the addition of new steps, handicapped-accessible ramp, and attendant railings. The building has been freshly painted in an elegant blue-and-white scheme that accentuates the building's windows and door; they reflect the Sonic Eagle sign above the door. Even the aforementioned railings fit the color scheme! During the first month or two of operation the location's primary downside was the lack of signage identifying the actual name of the community. Demonstrated by the first photo below, it appeared that once again a community's local identity was superseded by the Postal Service's branding initiatives. (It's a trend the author does not care for at all.) In that sense, while the building is clean and beautiful, its standardized design had been entirely devoid of any character that would actually make the new post office the community's own.

Our friend Steve Bahnsen drove out to Reading to see the new post office for himself. This photo was taken in July. Steve reports that the post office reopened Monday, June 29, 2015.

(Update, 9/12/15:) Jordan McAlister, a road trip warrior from the Midwest and friend of GP, visited the Reading P.O. on Sept. 7 after reading this very article, and his photo shows the new stenciled signage in the post office's front window. It's in a rather odd font, but at least it's authentic! Jordan's original photo can be found here.

The new post office is located at 413 1st Street. USPS's Locations tool states that the hours for the post office are 9:30 to 1:30 M-F with two morning hours (9:30 to 11:30) on Saturdays. The facility is accessible 24 hours a day so that residents can access their P.O. Box mail any time they choose. The post office is a RMPO (Remotely-Managed Post Office) as per POStPlan.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Going Galápagos—The Post Office Without Stamps

My lovely friends Brian and Katie took a long-awaited trip to the Galápagos Islands a few months back, and they were thrilled to pass on information about the, shall we say, informal 'Post Office' on Floreana Island.

The Galápagos Islands (and the biota living thereupon) are among the most distinctive in the world, straddling the Equator across a span of a couple hundred miles. The archipelago constitutes a province of Ecuador and currently houses 25,000 residents. More significantly, the islands house native species not found anywhere else in the world, and the rich diversity of animal and plant life inspired Charles Darwin's development of the theories of natural selection and evolution. These islands changed our understanding of life as we know it. But I digress.

As always, let's introduce some mappy goodness. Below, the islands are in the left-center of the initial map:

Floreana Island is at the southern end of the archipelago:

And here's a closer view of Floreana Island [bottom of map]—note Post Office Bay!

The Bahía Post Office on Floreana Island has been around since 1793. Back in the day the Galápagos were a stopping point for large whaling vessels. Now imagine: your home country is somewhere in Europe, and here you are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of South America, half a world away (and the Panama Canal not to be built for another century). Your voyage is not just months but probably multiple years long. The people who invented the telegraph haven't been born yet. So how do you communicate with loved ones?

Well, many whalers pondered this (let's just say they were all in the same boat—hah, get it?). Many of them ended up relying on each other. writes:
This is one of the few visitor sites in Galapagos where human history is the main focus. A group of whalers placed a wooden barrel here in 1793 and called it a post office. Traveling seamen would leave addressed letters in the barrel and hope that the next seamen to come along might be headed in the direction of their letters’ destinations. Today, visitors leave their own postcards and sift through the current pile of cards—if they find one that they can hand-deliver, they take it with them.
My friend Katie writes that the principle behind the site hasn't changed much...
1. To send a letter: you write a post card, do not put a stamp on it and put it in the mailbox.
2. To deliver a post card: You look through all the post cards in the mailbox and find one that goes somewhere near where you live. You take that post card home and drop it off at their house when you have time.

(I have no idea how long the average item remains in the mailbox or what percentage do actually get delivered. Or if some people just bring it back to their home country and mail it from there.)

Here are some photos by my friend, April 2015; the post office, some signage, and mail barrel:
Floreana Island, Galapagos post office
Floreana Island, Galapagos post office sign
Floreana Island, Galapagos mail barrel
Floreana Island, Galapagos mail barrel

I have no idea what is going on by the barrel. (Does that head-thing on the right remind anybody else of Donnie Darko??) Unfortunately it appears there has been some graffiti as well. That said, this is definitely unique and utterly cool!

You can read more about the Floreana Island post office here:
The Washington Post: Galapagos island relies on travelers to deliver the mail
Land Loper: The Post Office at the End of the World

Bonus: Ecuador's postal service is called Correos del Ecuador and there are other, more traditional, post offices on the Galápagos Islands. Here are some descriptions.

Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz: "The main drag, Charles Darwin, runs east-west along the bay. At the westernmost end of town you will find the Academy Bay port, the main grocery store, hardware store and post office." There is only one bank in town with an ATM machine and the post office is right hear the harbor.

Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela: "Buildings are concrete block, often colorfully painted or sporting murals as on the post office below. As the postmistress is the mother of one of the town’s laundress, when the laundress is out of town, you can pick up your laundry at the post office."

There's are photos of the post office here (fourth photo on the page) and here!

Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Isla de San Cristóbal:
Great photo here! "There aren't many places where you can send or receive mail in the Galápagos islands, but on San Cristóbal the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno has a post office."

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Getting Festive—NOLA's Pop-Up Post Office

In May 2014 Judy Walker of the The Times-Picayune reported (quite nicely) on the pop-up post office that appears at Jazz Fest and several other events around New Orleans. Technically it's a USPS Mobile Unit, a fully-loaded truck that can sell items of philatelic interest such as stamps and commemorative covers though it handles full packaging and shipping services as well.

My lovely girlfriend Amy reports that the Mobile Unit was open 11—5 during all seven days of Jazz Fest (which included two Sundays!) this year. Here are a couple of photos from one of the rainier days down by the Gulf:

Jazz Fest post office, 2015
Jazz Fest post office banner, 2015
Jazz Fest post office envelope covers, 2015

A special pictorial cancellation is available for each day of the event. This is a proud addition to my postmark collection!

Jazz Fest postmark

Can't make it down for the big event? Walker reports that "you might recognize these folks if you are a customer at the downtown New Orleans post office on Loyola Avenue, their regular place of work." Though other celebrations in the area also receive a postal presence: "The mobile unit sets up for Jazz Fest, Essence Fest, the Voodoo Experience, and, sometimes, at large conventions ..."

Read the full article to find out about some of the more interesting items that get mailed at the Mobile Unit.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Going Coastal: Malibu, CA

Ahh, Malibu. 21 miles of rich California coastline, home to the wealthy, the surfers, and some remarkably interesting fights over beach access, replete with fake No Parking signs and fake garage doors to keep people outsiders away. Most famously, of course, are the community's three post offices! Let's have a look at Malibu in its larger setting and then look at the P.O.s.

Malibu Post Office Map:

Malibu has a main post office and two classified (USPS-staffed) stations: Point Dume Station and La Costa Station. Point Dume is furthest up the coast (west) and is located slightly off the Pacific Coast Highway. Both the main post office and La Costa Station are located in strip malls / shopping plazas off the P.C.H.

Driving north from Santa Monica one first encounters La Costa Station. The building in which the post office is located bears Spanish and adobe-style influences. It can be found a shopping plaza on the north side of the P.C.H. and adjacent to Malibu Divers (need I say more?) and a windows/doors/glass store. The post office sign is unique, patriotically colored, seemingly hand-crafted, and slightly sun-worn. Here's a photo of the post office and a close-up of the sign.

Malibu, CA: La Costa Station post office:

According to USPS's Leased Facility Report the La Costa post office has been at this location since 1958!

Malibu's main post office is located in a larger shopping plaza along the south side of the P.C.H. You would be unlikely to identify the post office from the main road; should you miss it, prepare for a long return trip as U-turn opportunities are rare for some distance. Like that of La Costa Station, the building housing the main post office bears a Spanish tile roof. USPS presently leases this space for an astounding $143.46 per square foot ($387,000 per year in all) and has occupied this space since 1991.

Malibu, CA: Main Post Office:

Point Dume is, well, an actual point of land that juts into the Pacific. It possesses a State Beach and the Point Dume Station post office, which is in a rather unique facility on Heathercliff Road just south of the P.C.H. The building, which has housed the post office since 1992, is round, wood-trimmed on the outside, possesses a round inner courtyard as well as exterior patios. Parking is effectively in the bottom of the building. I haven't seen a space quite like it, particularly not one housing a P.O. Have a look (and if you can spot the van in each of the first two photos you can get a fix for where the post office is in the building):

Malibu, CA: Point Dume Station post office:

The P.O. Box lobby is located to the left while the retail counter is at the right of the latter image.

Hope you enjoyed the tour! (And GP's first entry in months—yikes!)