By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Hundreds of old post office boxes are displayed in the front lobby of the Heritage Center, some bearing gold plaques with the names of Havre families who once retrieved their mail there etched across the front.
Over the past eight years, many boxes at the Heritage Center have been "rented" out to people for anywhere from $100 to $500, depending on the box size. The proceeds from the rentals went to the H. Earl Clack Foundation, to help support the downtown landmark.
The "ownership" of a mailbox entitled the donor to a permanent commemorative plaque or nameplate on the box. Some boxes were purchased in memory or in honor of a loved one who once used the former post office, according to Emily Mayer Lossing, a member of the Havre City Council and the city-county historic preservation officer. Mayer Lossing was one of the first to purchase a mailbox in 1996. She rented Box No. 201, the box her family had used for generations.
Now, with the center up for public sale, some people have raised concerns about what will happen to the boxes they rented if the building is sold. John Danell rented his parents' old postal box several years ago, with the understanding that the box would be kept in its original location in the center.
"As long as whoever purchases the Heritage Center elects to keep the old post office boxes on display as is, I am comfortable leaving it there," Danell said in an e-mail. "But if not, then I want to have it removed and keep it in my home in a display case."
The future of the historic building has been uncertain since June, when the Clack Foundation - which began leasing the building in 1996 after the city purchased the former post office and federal courthouse from the U.S. Postal Service with federal grant money - announced it was relinquishing management of the building, effective July 1. The City Council voted June 21 to consider selling the building to a private purchaser. The center houses the H. Earl Clack Museum and some business offices.
The city on Sept. 17 received the green light from the Montana Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration to move forward with its plans to sell the building. The building has since been advertised for sale in newspapers across the state.
The U.S. Postal Service had the building placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. When the city purchased the building it signed covenants "on behalf of itself, its heirs and successors" to work with the state historic preservation officer to "preserve and maintain the former Havre Main Post Office" in accordance with the Secretary of Interior's standards for the rehabilitation and treatment of historic properties. If the building is sold, the covenants will be transferred to the purchaser.
Mark Baumler, the state historic preservation officer, said Tuesday that the building's covenants require the building's owner - whether it's the city or a new owner - to consult with his office before making any changes, to ensure that the historic significance of the building is preserved.
"My impression would be that they (post office boxes) would be considered as part of the building," Baumler said. "Their removal would be considered as a change to the building, so that would have to go through us."
Mayer Lossing said she believes the boxes will likely stay in the center.
"The mailboxes are an architecturally defining feature of the building," she added. "They're significant and cannot be moved."
Havre Mayor Bob Rice said the renters of the mailboxes will not get the boxes, no matter what the new owner decides to do with them.
"If they are removed from the building, the boxes must be given back to U.S. Postal Service," Rice said this morning.