The central post office buildings in Lithuania's main cities should keep their original function, the governmental heritage preservation body believes. However, the Post of Lithuania is intent on selling the buildings, saying they no longer serve any purpose.
The Cultural Heritage Commission has asked the state-owned postal company not to sell its main buildings in Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipėda, all of them listed properties.
“We think it important that postal services continue in these premises,” says Augis Gučas, a member of the commission. “Whatever else they want to do, they can: rent it out to a café, etc. It just takes some work.”
However, the Post of Lithuania says that the structure of the business has changed and there is no longer any need for central post offices: parcel deliveries are handled in smaller branches, by curriers or self-service machines.
The big central buildings have emptied out and maintaining them is a burden.
“The premises are too big for the Post of Lithuania, we don't need so much space. We use about 30 percent of it and could do with even less,” says Vaida Budrienė, the company's spokeswoman.
Meanwhile the Cultural Heritage Commission notes that the buildings were designed specifically for postal services and changing the use might compromise their integrity.
The neo-gothic central post office of Klaipėda was built in the nineteenth century, complete with a bell tower and a carillon.
The central post office in Kaunas is one of the best examples of interwar modernist architecture in the country. The city's public organisations have proposed several visions for what to do with the building once the Post of Lithuania moves out. These include converting it into a post or philately museum.
Vilnius central post office moved into its current premises on Gedimino Avenue after the Second World War. The post took over an older building, but it was reconstructed in the 1960s after a project by well-known architects, the Navytis brothers. It is their only surviving original interior.
“It is a truly masterly fusion of 19th or early 20th-century architecture with modernism,” Gučas says, adding that repurposing it for other uses would risk ruining the interior.
But the Post of Lithuania spokeswoman counters that the buildings are protected and the new owners will need to abide by heritage preservation rules.
There is a symbolic dimension, too. Popular imagination still holds that distances between towns and cities are measured between central post offices. That, however, was true in the 19th century, says Budrienė, when letters and parcels were transported by horse-drawn carriages. Today, distances are measured from city limit to limit.