Saturday, January 31, 2015

North of the Border: Thunder Bay, Ontario

We haven't headed outside the States in a while. So when a friend showed me photos of the various iterations of the post office in Thunder Bay, Ontario, I couldn't resist a quick detour. There are many changes in the Canadian postal service (Canada Post / Poste Canada) these days; the price of a stamp has skyrocketed, a greater proportion of postal retail counters are being operated by private stores, and Canada Post is eliminating all home delivery—snowed-in "Community Mailboxes," anyone? (In the U.S. the term is "cluster box," though I could think of another apt word to follow "cluster" if USPS tries to put those everywhere in big cities as Canada is doing right now.)

Anyway. Here's Thunder Bay!

As you can see on the map, the closest metropolitan area to the population-100,000 Thunder Bay is Duluth, Minnesota. The closest cities in Canada (Winnipeg, Manitoba and Sault Saint Marie) are each an eight-hour drive. It's a 15-hour drive from Thunder Bay to Toronto. This means that Thunder Bay must have a federal building or two as well as a mail processing facility.

In the United States mail processing facilities go by a few names: "Processing and Distribution Center (P&DC)," "Processing and Distribution Facility (P&DF)," to name a couple. Canada's facilities go by the term "Mail Processing Plant" — MPP for short. Like some mail processing facilities in the U.S., there is retail service at the Thunder Bay MPP, which also serves as the community's main post office. This is located in the north side of the city along Harbour Expressway. Here's a photo from 2014.

Thunder Bay, Ontario: Mail Processing Plant / Main Post Office

The rest of the post offices in Thunder Bay are essentially what we'd call Contract Postal Units (CPUs) in the U.S.; they're retail counters located in stores, in this case branches of Shoppers Drug Mart, a large Canadian chain that you could think of as Canada's CVS. Here's a map from the Canada Post site showing its locations in Thunder Bay.

The Thunder Bay MPP didn't always house retail operations. For a long time after it was built in the 1970s, the facility was processing-only. Retail has only been added in very recent years. And this brings us to what makes Thunder Bay's postal history interesting: Thunder Bay was only established on Jan. 1, 1970, a merger between two other fledgling communities: Port Arthur and Fort William. The name Thunder Bay was chosen by a vote of its citizens; its name could just as easily have been Lakehead. (The Lakehead was also an option.)

Which brings us to the post offices. Both Port Arthur (north side of now-Thunder Bay) and Fort William (south side) had their own grand federal building / post offices. Postal retail operations were phased out as the counters in drug stores opened.

Old Port Arthur post office (32-3 Court Street S.):

Old Fort William post office (address unknown to GP):

Of further interest is Thunder Bay's Federal Building, at 130 Syndicate Avenue South (Port William side), which you can view on Google Street View here:

The Beaux-Arts building was designed and constructed under "the 1934 Public Works Construction Act (PWCA), which was designed to stimulate the economy during the Depression and to relieve unemployment." In other words, it could be considered a cousin of the hundreds of historic post offices constructed in the United States at that time under FDR's New Deal.

Stay warm, everyone! Thanks to Skip A., who contributed the photos in this entry.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Under Construction

It's interesting to photograph post offices that are under construction, in the process of being opened. Nearly 100% of the time a new postal facility will be replacing one or even two other offices. I've come across this a handful of times, but never quite in the stage of construction my friend documented a new facility in Santa Cruz, California a few days back.

On January 12, the East Santa Cruz Station opened at its new location at 1148 Soquel Avenue after having lost its lease at its former location, 120 Morrissey Boulevard. Reportedly the landlord severed the lease so that a grocery store could move in. Here's USPS's local news release.

This photo of the old East Santa Cruz Station was taken by my friend John back in 2001.
Old East Santa Cruz post office
My friend Doug arrived the day before the opening of the new P.O., January 11, just as construction crews were hanging what appears to be a sonic eagle post office sign above the entrance to the new facility. He even witnessed them stenciling letters to the glass window and installing other materials. I think it's interesting to see the process in action.

Installing the presumably temporary banner:

The stencil lettering on the window of the new office:

Looking closely, you can see the new standard retail design theme for the counter area inside: faux-wood surfaces with rounded blue "marble"-grained countertops.

You can find more photos at Doug's photostream here.

I witnessed a similar event in Maryland back in 2012, though by that point the new post office—which was replacing both a historic New Deal facility and a primarily carrier facility nearby—had already opened. The workers were still putting the finishing touches on the new space.

New Bethesda Main Post Office, June 2012:

There's a post office construction project presently occurring in Brooklyn, New York that's been in the making for some time now. The Pratt Station, near Pratt Institute, slightly east of Brooklyn's downtown and south of its historic Navy Yard. The post office was informed that it would be losing its lease in October 2013 (think: developers + gentrification), and the building has been sitting largely vacant with a post office closure/relocation notice since October 2014. This moody photo of the building was taken last month:

Customers have been served by a USPS Mobile Unit located a few blocks up the road since October. The truck has been parked in front of the site of the new post office. Here's the truck:

And here's the site:

(There's a collection box located at the corner—as it should be!— just out of frame to the right.

The new post office is expected for retail services next month. The retail counter area is still under construction. For now, though, the Post Office Box lobby is accessible to box holders. When all is said and done there will two customer entrances to the post office storefront, one to the P.O. Box lobby and one to the retail area. The areas are separated by a lockable door. For now just the outer box lobby door is unlocked, and only during designated hours.

New Pratt Station: entrance to P.O. Box lobby:

Did you notice what the sign says about package pickup? This is apparently a lost customer convenience.

New Pratt Station: retail lobby under construction:

The retail area promises to resemble East Santa Cruz Station's—heck, all recent and current—areas in its design theme. However, Pratt's will likely feature transparent bulletproof barriers between the clerks and customers. That's just how it is at about 90% of post offices in New York City.

'Til next time!