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City Agency Preserves Artwork Inside Bronx Post Office

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One Post Office branch in the Bronx boasts some historic artwork that residents feared might wind up destroyed, but now, thanks to a city's agency's decision, that will not happen. NY1's Erin Clarke filed the following report.

Call it an early Christmas gift.

The Bronx General Post Office lobby, with 13 Depression-era murals by artists Ben Shahn and Bernarda Bryson, is now a landmark. That means they'll be preserved, no matter what happens to the building.

It's a major victory, says Laura Katzman, an author who's written extensively about Shahn.

"So if, say, a commercial developer buys this and turns the building into retail stores, these murals cannot be painted over," Katzman said. "They cannot be altered in any way."

The exterior of the building on Grand Concourse has been a city landmark since 1976, but the interior was not.

Bronx residents worried that they'd lose the treasured works when the Postal Service announced plans to sell the building to save money.

"The pictures on the walls, they're very nice, and I think they should keep them up," said one person.

A letter-writing campaign by members of the art world, elected officials and the community raised awareness about the threat posed to the murals by the Postal Service's plans. Now, they're celebrating the decision by the Landmarks Preservation Commission to protect them.

While the paintings inside will be preserved, the future of the building as a post office is still uncertain, and a fight continues to keep the building from being sold.

"There's a petition drive calling for two things," said Chuck Zlatkin of the New York Metro Area Postal Union. "One, to stop the sale of the building, and two, to return mail processing to the Bronx."

Zlatkin said that in November, after community and political pressure, the Postal Service withdrew a plan to sell a branch in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, and he thinks the same thing should happen here.

"What about the people of the Bronx? They don't deserve the same respect as the people in Manhattan?" Zlatkin said.

For now, advocates are calling the interior landmark designation a step forward, one that they're hoping will lead to the Postal Service rethinking its plans, and keeping the building and its murals a public space that the community can enjoy.

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