CHELSEA — The US Postal Service is quietly beginning the process of selling a decades-old post office in the heart of Chelsea, shocking neighbors and elected officials who say they were given no notice of the plans.
The Old Chelsea Station at 217 W. 18th St., which was built in 1937 and landed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, is on the chopping block, the USPS announced in a letter posted in the station.
"The above-referenced property is slated for sale, which will transfer the property out of federal ownership," USPS facilities specialist Ann M. Yarnel wrote in a letter dated Jan. 11 and posted on the foyer of the Chelsea post office.
The roughly 41,600-square-foot, two-story Colonial Revival building is known for its iconic red brick facade and limestone interior, along with two relief panels of a bear and a deer carved by artist Paul Fiene in 1938.
The USPS' letter to the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation argues that the sale will have "no adverse affect" on the building's historic value because the postal service will attach a "preservation covenant" with the deed to the property that would require review by the state before any changes are made to the interior lobby or the front facade.
The Postal Service, reeling from a $15.9 billion net loss last year, has been slashing its ties to buildings across the city, including a landmarked post office in The Bronx, as part of a nationwide plan to downsize.
Critics — including local elected officials — said they were blindsided by the news.
"We should not learn of an impending sale and closure only through a letter to the state agency on Historic Preservation," Congressman Jerrold Nadler said in a statement.
"This post office is heavily used and provides a critical service to Chelsea residents, many of whom are seniors or otherwise unable to travel far to conduct postal services."
Nadler, along with other Chelsea elected officials, was in the midst of drafting a letter to the Postal Service urging it not to sell the station, a spokesman said.
A spokeswoman for the Postal Service said the station's sale was in its early stages, that the public would have a period to give their comment and that there would be a public input meeting on the sale.
Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Office spokesman Randy Simons said that federal agencies are required to consult with the State Historic Preservation Office when it intends to sell a property on the National Register of Historic Places, but it cannot object to a sale.
"The Advisory Council on Historic Preservatin is working with the Postal Service to ensure that required reviews are done appropriately and efficiently," he said.
For many in the neighborhood, the building's historic importance is secondary to the fact that it's a large, convenient post office within walking distance of their homes and businesses.
In a statement, State Senator Brad Hoylman said that he expects an "extensive public review process" before any potential sale could take place.
"I have been working with the offices of U.S. Representatives Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney to clarify USPS’s plans and will be fighting alongside them and other local elected officials and community members to save our postal facility, the services it provides, and the historic building that houses it," he added.
Lesley Doyel co-president of Save Chelsea, has a business that, like many in the neighborhood, has a P.O. box at Old Chelsea Station.
"This has huge ramifications for many people," Doyel said. "It's a very crucial address for a lot of businesses and individuals. Everybody uses this post office."
According to elected officials, the Postal Service hopes to move to a smaller facility nearby, but residents were worried that the sale would leave them with a much longer walk to mail their letters. The closest post offices to Old Chelsea Station include one in the Google building on Ninth Avenue and another in London Terrace at Tenth Avenue and West 23rd Street.
Dianna Maeurer, who said she only discovered the plan to sell the building last week, said she disagreed with the post office's manner of announcing the closure.
"It's just this one tiny paper taped to a wall," she said, "that's not the way to do it."
Mauerer, who said she visits with friends at the post office and is on a "first-name basis with my postal person," said she's not happy with the USPS' decision.
"I know the staff there. I have friends there," she added.
With the neighborhood swelling in size, Mauerer said it made little sense to shut down its central postal station.
"They build all these buildings, these condos, and they're bringing more people in who are going to need mail, and they want to close this place down?" she said. "How could they even consider such a thing?"