There’s no question that the former downtown post office at 1248 Fifth Street (at Arizona) should be saved and preserved.
We’re losing important character and style by the minute in our city every time useful older buildings are torn down and replaced with something new that reflects only the present and the desire of developers to claim more turf in our lovely seaside community.
But it’s never easy making the kind of decisions that will bring new and sustainable life to older buildings.
While it’s barely been closed a week at the time of this writing, I can already hear whispers in the air that resonate with terms like “retail” and “cafes.”
Let me offer that the building, as a U.S. Post Office, spent many years serving all the people of our city.
I’ve been there many times myself to send parcels that I didn’t want to surrender to FedEx and their pricey rates.
So could the building on Arizona and Fifth Street once again be a place filled with purpose for all and perhaps even providing needed services?
In that hope I would like to offer some modest proposals for utilizing the building for something good for all the citizens of our city.
Perhaps some or even all of these are a bit starry-eyed, but none of them involve a Target store or luxury condos.
A Children’s Museum
If you’ve ever had the good fortune to spend a day in San Francisco’s magnificent Exploratorium, you know that the creativity and level of engagement there is a proud achievement for that city. They know it, too.
From the Exploratorium website: “For more than forty years, we’ve built creative, thought-provoking exhibits, tools, programs, and experiences that ignite curiosity, encourage exploration, and lead to profound learning.”
Could Santa Monica have a similar facility?
In a partnership with other children’s museums in Southern California, could Santa Monica have a facility that emphasized our ocean-proximate location and also “ignited curiosity” and “lead to profound learning”?
Such efforts require keen planning and continuing support. But, for kids, I think we could swing it.
Center For Climate Change Learning
By having a facility dedicated to the single most compelling challenge facing our planet, Santa Monica would lead by doing and provide a platform where there was never any looking away from a problem that is already way too far ahead of us.
This center would be an all-ages education facility, where Dad and Mom might catch-up on a lot of what their kids already know is killing us.
The former post office building might also become a low-cost home to organizations working on the problem, creating a headquarters for a battle we know we must begin to fight.
Santa Monica’s taking the lead by building just such a center would become a source of pride in our community.
The Green Building
This would be a more all-encompassing version of the previous pitch. First off, we’d convert the building’s energy needs to renewable and green sources so that the building itself became a functioning example of what can be done.
Then you’d have interactive exhibits that proved once and for all that a future propped-up on oil, coal and ‘fracked’ natural gas is, in fact, not a “future” at all.
Once a week, the potentially recyclable waste of just one elementary school would be transported to the building and students could be involved in the conversion of that material to new purposes.
A parent once told me that he wished there was a way to fully explain to his kids where their ‘poop’ goes once it’s flushed down a toilet.
That might not sound a big Saturday outing to you, but having displays that demystified even that basic reality of life might help the leaders of tomorrow to make fewer mistakes than we’re making now.
Music Learning Center
Music programs in schools have taken a crippling hit the past few years, and I would never propose that a dime that might be spent saving them be redirected to something else.
But imagine a full-time facility dedicated to the appreciation and understanding of music of all kinds around the world, including regular student and professional concerts and experience-type exhibits that might inspire the very young to create and play music.
Older citizens might utilize a lending library of opera and classical CDs.
The technology and delivery of music has been a source of fascination for the young but the roots and history of music are becoming increasingly like something on a far-off island.
A full-time music facility looking to build a bridge between the past and present seems like a reasonable use for a building we want to save, and it occurs to me that we have lots of world-class musicians in LA who would be delighted to swing on by and donate an afternoon.