County honors Auburn’s Postmark Center for the Arts

John D. Spellman Awards recognize achievements in historic preservation.

From start to finish, the City of Auburn took seven years to transform the old post office and King County Health Clinic into the Postmark Center for the Arts.

The Postmark opened Sept. 13, 2023, as a vibrant public space for visual arts exhibits and classes, public programs, performing arts, and other cultural gatherings. The new space is also a rental venue.

As a result of the building’s rehabilitation, King County honored Auburn on Dec. 7 with the John D. Spellman Award for Achievement in Historic Preservation — and presented it with an Award for Excellence in Adaptive Reuse for the stunning work.

“We appreciate being recognized for a project that I think is really going to do great stuff for our downtown,” said Daryl Faber, director of Auburn Parks, Arts and Recreation. “The post office and the health department actively served the community for [72] years, and now we hope to serve it equally long with arts and events downtown.”

The John D. Spellman Awards, presented once eachyear to recognize achievements in historic preservation, are named for the first King County Executive and 18th governor of Washington, who established the county’s Historic Preservation Program in 1980.

“The building’s doing really well,” Faber said. “We’ve had both private functions in there in the last two weeks and art clinics and make-it-take-it things before the Santa Parade. Poetry night starts next week, and we’re starting to get really good drop-ins. There’s an art exhibit there right now.”

The Auburn Post Office was built in 1937 and has been a public building in this location for 85 years. It was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Depression-era “New Deal” work relief program – the Public Works Administration – through which nearly 40,000 new public buildings were constructed across the country.

Funding the post office signaled that the City of Auburn had reached a level of stability that warranted this kind of public investment, and the employment generated by the project provided a much-needed boost to the local economy.

Auburn community leaders were instrumental in the project, and it was regularly covered on the front pages of the two local newspapers. More than 2,000 community members attended the laying of the cornerstone.

This building served as Auburn’s main post office until 1964 when a larger, more modern post office was built nearby. In 1964, the building was sold to King County for use as a public health clinic, which prompted extensive interior remodeling.

Spaces were subdivided to create offices and exam rooms, carpet covered the terrazzo floor, and drop ceilings with fluorescent light fixtures were installed.

King County closed its health clinic there in 2009 and the building remained vacant until its recent reopening.

In 2016, the City of Auburn bought the building from King County, hosted community meetings to gather ideas, and raised funds for rehabilitation.

During the complex project, the original terrazzo floor and marble wainscot were uncovered, the interior space reopened, original windows restored, and the beautiful iconic cupola was rehabilitated.

Over the past seven years, the City of Auburn has transformed the building into the Postmark Center for the Arts. As they did in 1937, Auburn community members turned out in force for the rededication of the post office as the Postmark Center for the Arts earlier this year, continuing the long tradition of recognizing the building as a symbol of city pride, collective vision, and community accomplishment.