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Court of Appeals and Old Main Post Office Building

by Peter H. Deutsch

Penny Bradshaw had the wonderful idea for the Class of 2008 to keep in touch on a regular basis by meeting for lunch once a month to discuss and share experiences, and Tuesday, October 7th, was scheduled for our “first date.”

When I discovered that the United States Court of Appeals and Old Main Post Office were offering a docent tour that day (and had a café on site!), seven of us met on the steps of this most beautiful example of an American Renaissance / Beaux Arts classical style building and took the tour given by Ms. Ellie Foster, docent since ’97, who had previously volunteered at various museums in Washington, D.C.

This building has a special meaning for me since it was here, on Halloween 1966, that I took the oath of office and swore to uphold the laws of the United States as a new employee of the United States Postal Service. I was hired as a part-time Collections Driver and worked afternoons and evenings while I went to college.

Ms. Foster explained that in this building there are forty-nine judges serving the Western United States, Hawaii, Alaska, and Samoa. Designed by supervising architect for the United States Treasury James Knox Taylor and opened on August 29, 1905, at a cost of $2,500,000, the building brought back special memories to me from times spent during my forty-year postal career in what Sunset Magazine once called “A Post Office That’s a Palace.”

As we walked through the ornate lobby, we looked through and stood in what was the “work room” floor, which is now the Court’s Library and is open to the public. Until 1983, the mail for zones 94102, 94103, 94105, and 94107 was sorted here by letter carriers whose colleagues during the 1906 earthquake doused mail sacks and helped save the building from fire and ruin. I shared my memories of the Loma Prieta earthquake in ’89, when several of us volunteered to go back into the building two days later and “close out” all the mail from the over 5000+ General Delivery boxes that were now strewn on the floor. We transferred them to temporary quarters at our building at Harrison and Main Streets, known as the Embarcadero Postal Center.

Getting back to that lobby, in a brief scene in Godfather III, then-Mayor Willie Brown can be seen walking (and you can hear his footsteps) on the tile inlaid floor, whose installation was overseen by Julia Morgan after she finished work on the Fairmont Hotel. The same unnamed Italian craftsmen who laid those tiles were later hired by William Randolph Hearst to work on his fabulous “ranch” at San Simeon.

That same day in 1989, a colleague and I ventured away and found the door that led to the basement, walked down the steep steps, and found the safe where all the stamps for the Western United States were then stored. All at once we looked at each other and thought the same thing: “If there are any aftershocks and that door closes, our screams won’t be heard!” On the way upstairs, we paused and looked at the jagged fissures that had mortar crumbling in our fingers, and we agreed that we had made the right decision to get back to the group.

Besides the four unique Court Rooms shown and described to us, our City Guides group was treated to an inside look at what was once the Postmaster’s Office. Richly inlaid with wood and tile, it is now the office of the building manager.

In 1983, when the Post Office moved from Rincon Annex on Spear and Mission to its present 34-acre processing facility at India Basin, I was responsible for producing for our headquarters in Washington, D.C., the film of the postal portion of what was to become known as the “Old” Main Post Office.

When the San Francisco District wanted to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the 1906 Earthquake, I discovered a letter written by the San Francisco Postmaster to Postal Headquarters about the current status of the building and the heroics of the brave postal workers.

The nearly hour-long tour concluded with our group having the photo shown above taken of us sitting “on the bench” in Court Room One.

Photo courtesy of Peter H. Deutsch, For more photos of this build’s tour, see: http://www.sfcityguides.org/guidelines/old_post_office/index.php

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Sitting on the bench, from left: Ann Faye, Sharon Garen, Chuck Schwartz, Peter Deutsch, Penny Bradshaw, Lee Ann

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