Alexandria, which fought and won the battle of the postmark, is now facing the battle of the post office.
During a reorganization of the northern Virginia postal district nearly 10 years ago, Alexandria, like other northern Virginia towns, was to be stripped of its postmark in favor of a new one reading "Northern Virginia."
"We protested to high hell and didn't get very far," said Mayor Charles Beatley, "until we protested to our congressmen and senators." That protest got the job done. The city was given back its "Alexandria" postmark with the condition that it be placed only on mail sent from the Old Town station at the corner of Prince and Washington streets.
Now the Postal Service is proposing to relocate the cramped quarters of the Old Town station. A new site would not only be inconvenient for business district customers, Beatley said, but could also cost the city its coveted postmark.
"We were afraid they were wanting to pick up their post office and fold their tents," Beatley said. "We'll sure help them find a land site, but I'm not going to allow them to go" from the business district.
Alexandria postmaster Charles Phillips said he doesn't expect to move from the downtown district, even though his own office is at the Postal Service Garage on Duke Street, two miles from the Old Town station, and even though the nine employes downtown are working in limited space. Phillips said he doesn't foresee downtown Alexandria being without a postal station, even if it means staying at the current Old Town location.
"I would like to consolidate the postmaster's office with the Old Town office," Phillips said. "But that's probably wanted by the courts because they would like to have that space. They don't want to give up anything, they want the rest of it." The eastern district of the Virginia federal court now uses nearly all the space in the three-story structure, leaving to the post office only a small section for private boxes and window service at the front of the building on the main floor.
"I think it would be beneficial if we could find a suitable location about four blocks from the area where we are, because we do want to be accessible to the community," said Phillips.
He said that by being two miles away from the main station, he feels quite isolated from his customers. the only advantage to his locaion is the relative ease of finding parking, he said.
The Old Town station, one of 12 in Alexandria, "used to be our main post office when everything was consolidated," Phillips said. When the Northern Virginia Sectional Center opened in 1972 about 12 miles away in Merrifield, Phillips said, mail processing was discontinued at Old Town and the courthouse took over the rest of the space in the building, built in 1930.
Even now, the aging Old Town station is "definitely busier than the other stations," Phillips said.
George Bond, who manages the Northern Virginia Sectional Center, said Phillips is probably the only postmaster in the 54-post-office district who is not based at his main station. "I can't think of any other," he said.
"I'd like to get him located downtown in the area of his financial operations," said Bond. "Perhaps we can modify the existing space in the building at Washington Street."
The Postal Service has already taken some initial steps to install Phillips in his main office. Last week, the Postal Service's real estate and buildings division in Philadelphia advertised for bids on a new Old Town site. Postal officials seek a one-story commercial struture not far from the present one with at least 7,581 square feet of space on a lot of at least 50,600 square feet.
George Conrad, the public information officer for the District of Columbia Post Office, said there were "probably less than five" bids received. The real estate division will review the bids and examine the sites within the next two weeks, Conrad said.
Postal officials are looking "just for land at this point," Conrad added. If nothing suitable for a new location is found, bids will probably be readvertised.
Mayor Beatley said he hopes Old Town station's problems are solved quickly, because "they certainly need the footage. We know they have had space problems and service problems because of space."
But Beatley wants the station kept in the Old Town district because, he said, "it's the only post office in the world that has an Alexandria postmark."