Restoring a Community Icon
How Chelsea's post office got a new lease on life.
by Kathy J. Clark
Published in September, 2019
Ray Maturo became interested in historic architecture during high school at Cranbrook Academy in Bloomfield Hills. He went on to graduate from the U-M School of Dentistry, and "after college, my appreciation for historic architecture continued when I moved from Pontiac to Ann Arbor," he says. "I became involved in renovating old houses in Ann Arbor."
When he opened Ann Arbor Pediatric Dentisty (AAPD) in 1988, he chose a landmark Tudor-style brick home on S. Main St. at Scio Church Rd. When he decided to add a Chelsea clinic, he found an even more iconic building: the city's 1937 post office, which had stood vacant since 2009.
When the post office moved to a shopping center at S. Main and Old US-12, it sold the building to the late developer Rene Papo. When Papo's plans to open a restaurant there fell through, he sold it in 2017 for $560,000.
The "purchase price seemed like a bargain," Maturo says, "but renovation was somewhat of a nightmare, almost tripling the purchase price." The payoff was restoration so historically accurate that "some people still walk in here thinking it is the post office," he says.
"The [front] door was butchered and we were not able to fix it," Maturo says, but the vestibule entrance has been preserved. The postmaster's office is now an employee break room. "The postmaster's bathroom had a ladder to a hidden mezzanine used to spy on workers," Maturo says.
Bas-relief carvings on limestone panels over the door and two windows represent transport of mail by train, air, and ship. Stand-up pedestal desks remain in the lobbies. But the wall once covered by a mural titled Way of Life, by George Harold Fisher of Detroit, is currently blank: when the postal service sold the building, it paid $22,000 to have the artwork restored and remounted in the new post office.
"We've commissioned Ann Arbor artist Margaret Wyngaard to create an art piece" for that wall, Maturo says. "She cuts
paper to make a collage that looks like a painting."
Ann Arbor Pediatric Dentistry's six dentists rotate between Ann Arbor and Chelsea. "We try to start children by age one," Maturo says, "often keeping a patient through high school or college." They also serve special-needs kids through adulthood.
"Restoring this building has had positive effects on Chelsea's streetscape," says Jan Bernath, who toured it with a Chelsea Area Historical Society fundraiser last December. "It felt like the post office as I walked through the vestibule, then stood and talked to the AAPD receptionist. It felt similar to talking with a mail clerk many years ago at the same counter."
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