A new break in the Union Square Post Office controversy

On April 30, 2014, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

Federal authorities are stepping in to see to it that historically significant post office buildings, such as the one in Union Square, are properly preserved or sold off by the USPS. — Photo by Harry Kane

Federal authorities are stepping in to see to it that historically significant post office buildings, such as the one in Union Square, are properly preserved or sold off by the USPS. — Photo by Harry Kane

By Jeremy F. van der Heiden

An advisory council tasked by Congress has released a new report on the legality and scope of the U.S. Postal Services’ (USPS) practices when selling its historic buildings.

Over the past several years, post offices deemed historic have been closed nationwide and sold to various buyers as the USPS works to reconsolidate its assets. In many cities, including Berkeley, California, Winsted, Connecticut and right here in Somerville, officials and residents have raised red flags because of the intrinsic communal value the post offices possess.

In Somerville, that historic value includes the mural in the post office in Union Square, “A Skirmish Between British and Colonists Near Somerville in Revolutionary Times,” completed by artist Ross Moffett in the late 1930s and commissioned under the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. The mural holds significant cultural and historic value specifically tied to the city. Moffett, an accomplished artist, has a wealth of work in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, including oil paintings that served as the guide for the mural.

As a result of such concerns and issues nationwide, the Obama administration and Congress put together the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, which spent the past several months conducting research into the practices of the USPS in its sales of historic buildings. The specific aim of the study was to decide whether the USPS violated Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, which oversees the closure and disposal of historic postal facilities.

Furthermore, the ACHP sought to respond to explanatory statements within the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, Division G.

The Somerville Historic Preservation Commission held a public hearing on the potential sale of the Union Square building back in March to compile statements that would then be forwarded to state officials and, subsequently, the ACHP. The post office closed the beginning of April, and postal services were relocated to a building on Bow Street. The sale status of the Union Square building is unclear.

On the national level, the advisory council ascertained that new public concerns, coupled with the continued efforts of the preservation community, have shown that the federal government must take further action to protect these buildings.

Currently, under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, the USPS has to conduct a site evaluation to decide whether potential sale sites are listed in the National Register of Historic Places (the building in Union Square has been on the list since 1986), if there are any cultural or historic materials located within, and if any actions taken will hinder the historic value of the building itself or the materials inside. When any of these items come up positive, the USPS is required to conduct public meetings, monitor impacts and create mitigation measures during construction – after obtaining the required permits – while following the various components of Section 106 throughout the process.

Ross Moffett’s mural “A Skirmish Between British and Colonists Near Somerville in Revolutionary Times” embellishes the interior of the now decommissioned Union Square post office.

Ross Moffett’s mural “A Skirmish Between British and Colonists Near Somerville in Revolutionary Times” embellishes the interior of the now decommissioned Union Square post office.

As for compliance, public notices must be issued that include mitigation plans, the NSHPA Section 106 process initiated and excavation permits acquired.

In the ACHP’s report, which came out in the middle of April, it made several recommendations to Congress, including the suspension of further USPS actions to relocate services out of historic postal facilities and any disposal of the buildings until it implements new guidelines and compliance actions. Officials in the council also suggested the USPS expand and reorganize its historic preservation program, working with the ACHP and other stakeholders to identify opportunities for stronger practices.

The other 12 or so recommendations virtually all tied back into the complete overhaul of the USPS’s practices in selling its historic buildings and items therein, with a specific focus on becoming more proactive in the process of making the strategies more transparent.

The next step, at least on the federal level, will be for Congress to evaluate the information contained within the AHCP’s report and sign several – or all – of these recommendations into law. Recent pressure tests and Congressional hearings have indicated that the majority of officials are motivated to take actions that will further protect historic buildings and force the USPS to become more transparent.

Back in Somerville, the Board of Aldermen’s Legislative Matters Committee brought up this topic at its regular meeting April 21. David Shapiro, assistant city solicitor, as well as Michael Glavin, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development, explained to the committee members that they are still in the process of requesting and collecting records from the USPS.

Access to the mural, questions regarding sorting and several other inquiries were included in the city’s request for records from the USPS, and Shapiro explained that he is keeping in correspondence with the branch manager, who will hopefully be appearing for briefings at various meetings.

The aldermen on the committee stated that the matter will be kept on the docket for the next regular meeting, and Shapiro will be attending to disclose any further information discovered through the records request.

More needs to be done on the federal, state and local levels in terms of investigating the USPS’s sale of its buildings. Right now, it seems as though the most common and aggressive pursuit is simply discovering what has been done, whether the steps were taken in compliance with Section 106 of the NHPA, and what actions will be put forth should Somerville or Congress decide that the USPS broke preservation laws.


25 Responses to “A new break in the Union Square Post Office controversy”

  1. Uncle Rocco says:


    Guess it isn’t as easy to steal the post office from the people as it is to steal the flower market from Ricky.

  2. good one. says:

    touché. Ricky’s a good guy with a family operation. Took over a crappy gas station and made a go of it. Always donated to local causes. Got through cancer that he probably got from the poison ground there. and then we toss him out. Class act

  3. Gianni Serpico says:

    It’s a beautiful historical building. Let’s keep it.

  4. bob says:

    And now they are going after Home Depot, and the Assembly Square Mall. This city is in the business of pushing out businesses and residents in favor of other businesses and residents, but ones they approve of. I think it is now on the verge of going too far and people are starting to sit up and take notice.

  5. MarketMan says:

    bob: City is going after Home Depot and Assembly Square Mall?? This is the first time I have heard of this. Can you say more?

  6. Ron Newman says:

    I’m not familiar with what’s happening at Home Depot or the mall. Say more please?

  7. Joe's world says:

    Hey this is Joe’s world and we’re all just living in it (unless he wants you to leave then he will eminent domain your a$$).

  8. Uncle Rocco says:

    Home Depot, Inc. is about 500 times more powerful than Somerville City Hall. I’d pay good money to see the look on their CEO’s face when he gets the letter from some Planning Department pinhead in Somerville telling him they’re taking his land.

  9. wait says:

    oh, just wait and be surprised. very surprised

  10. Pixie Pocahontas says:

    Try to keep up, guys–

    Somerville officials look to develop more property in Assembly Square, potentially through eminent domain
    By Monica Jimenez, Updated Apr 29, 2014 at 2:18 PM

    As the billion-dollar Assembly Row project nears completion, city officials are looking to expand development in the area, which could lead to taking over properties like the Home Depot, the La Quinta hotel and the Assembly Square Mall by eminent domain.

    However, aldermen are wary of the plan, and want more control over the process.

    Mayor Joe Curtatone is asking aldermen for $500,000 to hire consultants who would begin analyzing the potential of Assembly Square parcels and identifying the infrastructure that would be needed to realize that potential, OSPCD Director Mike Glavin and Planning Director George Proakis told the aldermen’s Housing and Community Development Committee April 28.

  11. Villenous says:

    Are we shedding crocodile tears now for big box retailers? If you what you want is to live in a suburb that looks like every other suburb, you’ve got your choice of them. Somerville failed at that. Failed hard. Failed for decades. I like this whole nicer place to live, better schools, rising commercial tax base (which lessens my residential tax burden) thing we’ve got going on here. Maybe if Home Depot goes away, we’ll see some more local hardware stores spring up.

    As for the Post Office building, the article really never gets to the point, but as I understand it the city is trying to make sure the building gets preserved. A lot of people would like to see it become an arts and performance center.

  12. Pixie Pocahontas says:

    Uncle Rocco,

    Let’s make a deal:

    Door # 1–taxpayers will be forking up more dough so Joey cupcakes can sue Home Depot for violations using his frits.

    Door # 2: Home Depot show me the money we have Everett see ya

    Door # 3: pols favorite lawyer, conflict of interest developer schemes up a back room game plan to rid them all, investors and persons of interest pass go, get a free me outta jail card, hello park avenue , assembly men row!

  13. Gianni Serpico says:

    Home Depot will invade Somerville with tanks, if anything of that sort goes on…

  14. Bambi says:

    But the beautiful parking lots! DON’T touch the parking lots.

  15. MarketMan says:

    I agree with Villenous. Assembly Mall area is a mess. If that can be improved, I’d be happy. Thing is, I haven’t been to impressed with the Assembly Row outcome… but it’s better than what was there.

  16. Uncle Rocco says:

    What are you still doing around today? I thought City Hall cut out early on Friday. Didn’t you hear? Richie DiGirolamo just cashed his first rent check from USPS, and is throwing a big party for you guys up at the lake this weekend.

    So what are you doing hanging around with us bums? Go on up and enjoy yourself! And tell Joey and the boys I asked about them!

  17. Bambi says:

    Makes sense now why City Hall didn’t insist on restoring the old storefront to the building where they moved the post office. Looks like they slapped up some sheet metal and a sign and called it a day.

  18. Somerbreeze says:

    I think it’s so very Somerville that Richie DiGirolamo owns the building that now houses the new USPS in Union Square…

    This is How We Do Business in our All-America City, right?

  19. Pixie Pocahontas says:

    What doesn’t he own, what projects is he not involved in? How exactly does one represent buyer, seller and developer, appoint same firms over and over again?

  20. jake says:

    It would be interesting to see what bidding process was in store for this fix. Doesn’t even seem that there is adequate parking for postal delivery trucks. We can add this to the freedom of information requests that one day will come to show how many of the selected ones are given these lucrative deals and jobs taken by Alderman and political contributors, in which no other candidates are even interviewed.

  21. Pixie Pocahontas says:

    News break ,

    Teele Square next pet project scheduled for demolition RD style. Stay tuned

  22. Ron Newman says:

    Are you referring to the hole in the ground where Hawk Cleaners used to be? That was demolished by a fire years ago.

  23. Pixie Pocahontas says:

    Proposal by unknown developer meeting hosted by RD-
    (11) condos – 10 2bdrm/1 3bdrm- $500k +

    Clues arise to suggest surrounding blocks of businesses will also be driven out an razing bonanza will reign. Can you guess who is the major developer grim reaper of Somerville?

    If you compare two major players to Bush/Cheney, I’ll take bets starting now.
    Vulnerable unsuspecting homeowners should be doing some due diligence at the registry of deeds, Maiden Lane was to the Wallstreet thuggery which managed to rob homeowners, investors and municipalities on American soil as well as abroad- same is happening right under our noses. Lots of these projects don’t pass the sniff test. Dead presidents all flying under the radar.

  24. bob says:

    Pixie, you are right with one addition. Represents buyer, seller, developer, and chair of the ZBA, to complete the circle. Does anyone still wonder why developers get whatever they want in this city?

  25. Pixie Pocahontas says:


    Thanks, forgot the episode of ZBA which also involved former alderman of Ward 5 who stepped down. If you attend just a few town meeting about new developments and tax increases, the bigger picture becomes clear.

    Many are under the impression cupcake man is the high roller in town, not until I saw the pols lawyer in action did I understand who is really running the show. Someone with that much arrogance willing to admit he worked for the developer of 1185, shoddy workmanship created lawsuits, is either crazy or certain of himself. Either way, if we can’t stop the runaway train of Tricky Dick and his lust for greed and power, I don’t see how somervillians can have a future in this broken city. I am one of fourth generations, don’t see our fifth being able to remain. Too many, feel this place is over rated, I would have to agree. The only benefit is being close to work for lots of locals, but when expense lessens quality of life, wonder if it truly is worth it. I would love to see a new administration and return it to a much balanced place. Building Mausoleum condos is rather fitting given our town is being run by men who have no soul. People should never envy those with money or power. It doesn’t last forever and life becomes a lonely place.

Leave a Reply