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From grocery store to sculpture garden . . . History of the Solana Beach Post Office


The first U.S. Post Office in what is now the City of Solana Beach operated out of a grocery store run by Addie Waits and her husband George in the west portion of the Harker building, located at the northeast corner of the Plaza by Hwy. 101. 


Addie Ellen Phillips and her twin sister Emma were born in 1870 in Nebraska. She married George Waits in Kalispell, Montana in 1909. It was the second marriage for both. The Waits migrated to Solana Beach and Addie was named Postmaster in 1923. (Strictly speaking, Addie was the second postmaster. George Nichols served several months in a temporary position before her nomination.)

During that time, postal customers would drop off and pick up their mail at the grocery store. But how did “our” mail get there, and how was outgoing mail sent on?

Addie batched outgoing mail in a canvas bag. George then carried the mailbag down the steps from the store to his steel-wheeled wheelbarrow. He had cast a narrow concrete ramp — just wide enough for the wheel — from the sidewalk to the street. He wheeled the mail down the ramp, across Hwy 101 and south along the railroad tracks to a tall 4 x 4-inch post with snaps on top and bottom. George snapped in the mailbag. As the train raced through town at 50 to 70 miles an hour, an extended arm on the mail car would snatch the bag. Workers in the mail car would take it in and at the same time throw out a mail bag for Solana Beach. View a video of the process.

In 1936, Addie retired and the Post Office moved across the Plaza to what is now the Saddle Bar, where it served the community until 1953. Irene C. Witmer became Postmaster and served in that capacity until her own retirement in 1956. Her husband Howard served as assistant Postmaster. Irene also was president of the Solana Beach Women’s Civic Club in 1955 and is described in reports from the era as tireless booster of Solana Beach. The Witmers ran Witmer Drugs and Sandwich Shop at 145-149 Hwy. 101 and lived above it. During Irene’s tenure, a new Post Office building was completed at 127 S. Sierra Ave., with planter boxes and plants provided by the Civic Club. She retired in 1956 and was replaced by Postmaster Charles Leffingwell, another local resident.

Neighbors remember Leffingwell, a U.C. Davis-educated horticulturist, for the vegetable and gladiolus garden he maintained around his home across from what now is our Fire Station. Among his first successes: once-daily home and business mail delivery was inaugurated in November, 1956 to 300 addresses. Foot carriers delivered the mail west of Hwy. 101; a truck delivered east of the highway.

However, Leffingwell’s stint as Postmaster was not without drama or controversy. A smoke bomb went off in the P.O. doorway in 1958. Construction of the current federal building/post office at 153 S. Sierra Ave. during the 1960s was deemed a “boondoggle” dogged by “budgetary bungles” and delays. When postal workers moved into the new 6,500-square-foot quarters on September 2, 1965, there was no ribbon cutting.

Nor were there ceilings, signs or landscaping. “We are just the U.S. Post Office Department’s step child,” Postmaster Leffingwell commented. He taped a sign to the door and hoped that the General Services Administration would finally put the finishing work out to bid. "We thought about a ‘do-it-yourself’ project to get the place looking better," Leffingwell said. "But I hesitate to ask for civic money or spend it out of my own pocket if it is just going to be torn out when the contract is finally let.”

The tradition of long-tenured Postmasters ended after Leffingwell’s term. Since 1969, we have had 12 Postmasters and many more “acting Postmasters” or “Officers in Charge” — some of whom held the titles more than once. In 2014, then-Postmaster Betty Rabreau, embraced a “do it ourselves” invitation from the SeaWeeders to update the landscape and create the seating and sculpture garden that graces the P.O. today. “I thought they were just going to pull a few weeds. I had absolutely no idea of the magnitude of the job," Postmaster Rabreau said at the time.


The $11,000 rehab was aided by the Society, Solana Beach Presbyterian Church's Community Outreach program, and local Rotary Club. Along with new plantings, the re-design included a concrete patio, bike rack, two benches, sculpture platforms and formal paths that replaced the raggedy trails customers had worn through the old ice-plant.

Ever since, upkeep of the Post Office landscape has been a volunteer activity sponsored by the SeaWeeders and our Society. In 2017-18, work teams tackled overgrown fortnight lilies and added water-wise aloes, aeoniums, agaves and Kangaroo Paws. We trimmed trees, painted the flag pole and railings, laid a bed of newspaper between plants and covered that with a hearty layer of mulch to deter weeds.

Recent donations have included Forest Pansy Redbud and Ginko trees, as well as an additional bench in honor of former Society president Gloria Jones. In 2021, Society friend Jimmy Joe Gooding repainted the colorful Topiary sculpture by artist Christi Beniston that was part of the 2014 project. It was never meant for permanent outdoor installation, but Jimmy Joe punched up the colors and finished with an industrial-strength overcoat of varnish that has kept the popular sculpture colorful and shiny.

Meanwhile, inside . . . a ‘60s kind of vibe was preserved in the faded, pastel interior until 2023, when the weathered interior walls were repainted. The redo included painting over a pastel, Southwestern-styled mural that dated to the 1980s.

Our current Solana Beach Postmaster, Richard Zamora, was appointed in September 2022. He manages 23 employees and the daily distribution of mail on 12 delivery routes and to 1,500 P.O. Boxes at the facility. Zamora is a 15-year postal employee and U. S. Navy veteran who began his career as a mail handler and who previously served as a supervisor at our P.O.

Dedicated "P.O. Posse" Keeps the Garden Polished


You'll find them pulling weeds, cleaning paths and dead-heading the fortnight lilies almost every Saturday morning -- rain or shine. The dedicated SeaWeeder volunteers we call our "P. O. Posse" take payment only from the thanks and compliments of Postal patrons and passers-by. Although they do also delight in snapping visitors' photos at the popular "Love Above All" bench and slyly snipping the bushes into heart shapes. See if you can spy them . . .

Members of Teen Volunteers in Action and their parents regularly join the Posse to help refresh walking paths and lay fresh mulch in the Solana Beach Post Office sculpture garden.


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