Old Chelsea Station Won’t Close, but it May Change
BY SCOTT STIFFLER | Its days as the go-to place for stamp-dispensing vending machines are long gone — but Old Chelsea Station is here to stay.
After nearly a year of community forums, petitions, electronic missives and snail mail outreach, the United Stated Postal Service (USPS) recently told elected officials that a proposal to sell its 217 West 18th Street post office has been abandoned.
Built in 1937, the two-story, Colonial Revival-style red brick structure (on the National Register of Historic Places, but not landmarked by the city) is among just a handful of Depression-era post offices left throughout the five boroughs.
Early last week, a joint statement issued by Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, Borough President Scott Stringer, State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymembers Richard Gottfried and Deborah Glick praised the USPS’s decision to keep Old Chelsea Station’s doors open. But they also acknowledged possible changes to the 41,865-square-foot facility, noting that the USPS is currently exploring options “such as re-purposing underutilized space in the building.”
That loaded phrase references various ideas floated during the public review process. The doomsday option of closing Old Chelsea Station, it was suggested, might be avoided by vertical expansion or the transfer of air rights. A more realistic scenario, and one of great concern to preservationists, involved leasing space in a manner that would impact the building’s lobby (distinguished by a marble floor as well as deer and bear cast stone bas-relief panels carved by Paul Fiene).
“We will continue to monitor USPS’s future actions regarding the Old Chelsea Post Office,” promised the electeds, who noted that upon first learning of its possible closure, they partnered with the community to advocate “strongly for the continuation of services and for increased transparency and a robust public process before USPS took any further action.”
Council of Chelsea Block Associations president Bill Borock cited “the involvement of the community, working together with elected officials,” as a decisive factor in Old Chelsea Station’s survival. Borock’s assessment was echoed by a source close to ongoing discussions with the USPS — who told this newspaper that the West 18th Street facility was saved by a combination of economic reality (relocating in Chelsea wasn’t cost-effective) and the acknowledgement by USPS officials that, “Everybody who protested was right. It was made very clear that this was an important community resource, and they had to keep it open.”
In a December 3 email to Chelsea Now, Hoylman was similarly blunt in asserting linkage between activism and results. “The USPS realized what elected officials and community members have been saying all along: that selling Old Chelsea Station and leasing new space elsewhere in the neighborhood simply doesn’t make sense.” Although he did not comment on maintaining unfettered public access to the lobby (or its aesthetic integrity), Hoylman promised further collaboration with his colleagues in government, to “ensure vital mail services remain in our neighborhood’s treasured facility.”