In LA, a lot of tourists and locals find themselves drawn to certain places because of a role they played in a film, a TV series, or even a book. There's the Batcave, the M*A*S*H site in Malibu, the Charmed house in Angelino Heights, the police station from Dragnet, the swimming pool from Mad Men, and Doc Brown's house from Back to the Future, among many, many others.
I was lured by the Terminal Annex Post Office in Downtown LA, without knowing that it was the one from Charles Bukowski's breakthrough novel Post Office.
After all, I haven't read it yet. I hadn't even heard of Charles Bukowski before moving to LA four and a half years ago. I didn't get to study the writings of a drunk and dirty old man in literature classes back East in the '80s and '90s. Maybe times have changed. Maybe it's different here, out West.
Regardless of its literary significance, I knew it was a great building, and after years of driving past, I finally found myself on foot nearby and able to wander in.
When it opened in 1940, the Terminal Annex was the central processing unit for LA's incoming and outgoing mail. Its utilitarian purpose didn't detract from its beauty—it was designed to complement the architectural style of Union Station across the street, and oh, how it does.
In real life, Bukowski worked at the postal service as a mail carrier and sorter for 14 years. Then he wrote his semi-fictionized, thinly veiled account of it in Post Office, giving the Terminal Annex a certain status of infamy.
Because of its size and rate of growth, the city's mail demands actually outgrew the Terminal Annex facility, so it had to be replaced in 1989. It had a good 50 years.
The postal service reportedly moved out of the building in 1995, and subsequently, it started appearing in all sorts of films and TV episodes. It stood empty for years, inaccessible to the public.
I wasn't sure what was there now, or if I would even be able to get inside, but I saw a few others opening the doors with ease. So, I followed suit.
Inside, it has the feeling of a grand municipal building, decorated with several WPA era murals by modernist figurative painter Boris Deutsch. Understandably, it has stood in for city halls and hospitals on screen.
Its high ceilings make it feel cavernous...
...but the glow of mid-afternoon sun coming through the windows, with no other lights on, makes it feel cozy.
It's quite a looker, for a facility that wasn't meant to be open to the public.
But despite its emptiness, it appears that it is open to the public now—somewhat. Its front area is a small USPS location for retail services and drop-offs and retrievals of mail. The LA Sheriff's Department instructs those wishing to reach incarcerated inmates (at the Men's Central Jail, and other area prison facilities) to address their packages to a P.O. Box here, to be subsequently scrutinized for explicit sexual content and other contraband.
On a Saturday afternoon after 1 p.m., there was not a postal clerk in sight. It's a bit eerie in there, with one hallway roped off and the elevators inaccessible, the dim lighting and the clocks that have stopped running. As beautiful as it is, this place has seen some ugly events—from workers going "postal" to pipe bombs going off.
Especially when admiring its Mission Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival architectural features on its exterior, you'd never know that somewhere behind these terrazzo floors and wall murals now lies a technological powerhouse.
After a 2001 renovation, which modernized the structure to attract high-tech occupants, CoreSite Realty Corporation moved in and transformed the newly-restored structure into an annex data center—their "LA2" facility, a computer ecosystem that probably powers more things in The Cloud than we could ever imagine. They needed a lot of square footage, and this protected, designated landmark had it. And no one else was using it.
The building was saved because of its architectural style and not because of the role it has played in LA's literary heritage and American pop culture. But now that I've been there and seen it for myself, maybe now is a good time to finally read a Bukowski novel. It feels like a rite of passage, in order to really understand LA.
Photo Essay: James Farley Post Office / Future Moynihan Station
Photo Essay: Union Station, Open to the Public