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Post Office Plaza Making Progress



While most post office errands don’t top our favorite things on the to-do list, the Seaside post office differentiates itself from the rest. Seaside residents pick up their daily mail, greeted by the friendly Pat Day, postmistress since shortly after the opening of the post office 33 years ago, and one of the most recognized people in Seaside. Day and Manny Chavez are the only two employees. And each offers friendly and hospitable service. “We bend over backwards for our customers,” says Day. “We are customer-oriented. Many times the tourists don’t have boxes or other items for packaging, so I keep a lot of recycled materials on hand for them. And I’ve known the regulars for years.”

In addition to the stellar customer service, the location and enchanting design of the post office make it a place people want to visit. “It’s in the center of town, where there’s always activity. It’s the heart of Seaside, really,” says architect and urbanist Dhiru Thadani. “It’s not like a suburban parking lot post office. It’s much more charming.”

That location will change in the coming weeks. The post office will be moved intact from its current location on 30A to the southern end of Seaside Avenue between Sundog Books and The Art of Simple, the area to be named the Post Office Plaza. The plaza is the first project leading to the future construction of the Krier Tower, which will be set where the post office is now located.

Post Office History

The Seaside post office was the second civic building to be built in Seaside, after Ernesto Buch’s Tupelo Street Beach Pavilion, according to “Visions of Seaside” by Thadani. “Having a physical post office at Seaside established a sense of place and gave the town credibility and the perception of being real,” Thadani writes. “Subliminally this convinced potential home buyers that a town would emerge over time.”

Seaside founder Robert Davis designed the building, which immediately became a landmark for the town center when it opened June 3, 1985.

“It did seem to me that having a post office would be an important symbolic element in establishing Seaside as a town,” Davis says. “And … it has become an important civic and social element for Seaside.”

Davis designed the post office with the help of Bob Lamar, an interior designer from Pensacola, and the American Vignola and the Builders Companion, two of a number of handbooks and manuals of the 19th and early 20th centuries that were used by carpenters and masons to build competent classical buildings. Master carpenter Terry Londeree built the post office.

In its early days, one end of the counter was a community book swap, inviting locals and guests to share stories, information and books.
Since those early days of Seaside, the post office has become a cherished civic icon, gathering place and information center. And it’s not the first time the post office has been relocated. It had been moved once before, about 20 years ago, by approximately 20 feet, shifting it closer to Highway 30A. Side steps were then added to the original porch.

It is the most photographed building in Seaside, and likely one of the most photographed post offices in the world. On any given day, Pat Day sees 20 to 50 photos taken at the post office.

Business has picked up significantly over the years. With a constant stream of customers coming and going, many people purchase Seaside commemorative stamps. Some customers ask for a postmark with the Seaside name on it as a souvenir, to no avail since the Seaside office is a branch of the Santa Rosa Beach post office, as the postmark reads. There are 294 post office boxes, some of which have been occupied by the same customers for all of its 33 years.

The Move
As outlined in “Visions of Seaside,” the idea for the Krier Tower was included in the original plans for Seaside. The Post Office Plaza is the first phase in the realization of that dream.

As construction on the plaza piques interest in town, feedback is mixed. “Some folks say (the post office) is iconic, and it should remain where it is,” says Day. Others think the additional bike parking in the new location will make it more convenient for customers.
“It will take some getting used to since the tower won’t happen right away,” Thadani adds. “But within a year people will get used to the new location. Everyone laments change but they get used to it. I hope the new location will have the same liveliness.”
In addition to the post office, the flag pole will be moved to the new location, too. Four rows for bike parking will be added. And the plaza will include 22 medjool palm trees, the same height as the ones around the Seaside Amphitheater. “The trees are planted close together, with the palm branches touching each other, so as to create a shaded area,” Thadani says. “It’s important that the bikes not too get hot.”

The plaza will also house seven new public restrooms, all handicap accessible. As most structures in Seaside, the restroom buildings are architecturally interesting. Thadani uses the term “folly” to describe them.

In architecture, a folly is a building constructed primarily for decoration, but suggesting through its appearance some other purpose, or of such extravagant appearance that it transcends the range of garden ornaments usually associated with the class of buildings to which it belongs. The restroom buildings are designed to be whimsical arch structures.

The space surrounding the plaza will see improvements as a result of the project. The sidewalk in front of Sundog Books will be widened. Display windows on the bookstore’s east façade will have added lighting, allowing for advertisement posters. “It will be a little livelier,” Thadani says, “more like window shopping.” Other details include reconfiguring the sidewalk along Seaside Avenue for a more seamless path to Central Square.

The move of the post office and the construction of the plaza are part of the careful planning that is imbedded in the evolution of Seaside. “It is like a game of chess where we are moving pieces in a certain order,” Thadani explains. “Before we add the Krier Tower, we have to first move the post office. Earlier this year, we built an amphitheater stage at the lyceum lawn so that when the tower goes into construction we would have another place for entertainment. We have to move one piece before we can move another, so as not to lose services.”

Next on the horizon is the construction of the Krier Tower, an architectural landmark designed by renowned architect and urban designer Léon Krier. “As an admirer of Leon Krier, it has long been my dream to bring to fruition the Krier Tower planned for Seaside’s town center,” Davis says, “as well as creating a worthy civic space for the post office.”

Seaside’s urban spaces and civic buildings have provided gathering places that draw people to our community to learn, create and experience small town urbanity as well as life at the beach, Davis explains. “The Post Office Plaza will enhance the experience of visitors and residents by creating a pedestrian park on one of the three axes leading from Seaside’s Central Square. And, by freeing up space for the Krier Tower, the long-term vision for Seaside’s downtown will take one more step toward realization.

FACEBOOK QUOTE: I love the dimensions of the structures in place. It’s a familiar visual of the arches around the adult pool and the peaks of the church. Not sure if that was meant to be, but it’s how I see this work of art. I’m here now and I appreciate the continued vision and change I’ve seen over the past 22 years I’ve been visiting. — Teri Ellis, Facebook

 

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