Renovations Finally in Progress at Former Downtown Post Office Building
By Anne Levin
The transformation of Princeton’s former post office building into the new location of Triumph Brewery is finally underway. Inside the Palmer Square landmark, Princeton Design Guild is demolishing the old vaults where money and stamps were kept, and everything in the basement, in preparation for the redesign.
If all goes according to plan, Triumph could move from its current location at 138 Nassau Street and re-open on Palmer Square by the last quarter of 2022, according to Kevin Wilkes of Princeton Design Guild, who is working as the owner’s representative on the project. “We are not the general contractor. We will make a selection in a month for a construction management company,” he said. “But I’m getting things started on the front end so we don’t lose time.”
Three architects are involved in the project. Gittings Associates of Forrestal Road is the architect of record, Richardson Smith of Witherspoon Street is design architect, and Historic Building Architects of Trenton are the historic preservation architects. “We aim to make this a high-quality project, so having a lot of architects involved will lead to a better result,” Wilkes said. “It also spreads the workload a bit.”
It has been nearly eight years since California businessman David Eichler won the bidding for the property, which was home to the post office for 78 years. Plans for Triumph to relocate to the site were announced in 2016. But several issues, involving easements encroaching on municipal property and protected state park land, were among the factors that stalled final approval of the deal.
“It took a year to get permits out of the state, but we’re now fully permitted,” said Wilkes. “COVID put a real monkey wrench in the process. Everyone was working from home. The only benefit of COVID is that there are fewer people on Palmer Square. So we’re hoping to get a lot done before everything opens up again.”
The entry to the new restaurant will be located in the rear of the building, where the post office’s loading dock was located. Plans call for the main hall to become the dining room. The basement and former mail sorting area will also be used. Plans have also included a widened sidewalk, benches, and the planting of trees.
Eichler and Triumph owner Adam Rechnitz have pledged to preserve the historic character of the building, which is the oldest on Palmer Square, while adapting it for use as a restaurant. The post office was built in 1937 and contains a mural entitled “America Under the Palms.” The mural, which became controversial because of the way it depicts Native Americans, is to remain, the owners said at the time of approval.
“There is a high degree of difficulty, because it’s a historic building,” said Wilkes. “But it’s not a large building. We’re trying to pack a lot in – a brewery, restaurant, and bars. We’re working in Palmer Square, so we’re under the microscope all day long. There’s not a lot of room for sloppiness.”
Triumph has been located in a former bowling alley on Nassau Street for 27 years. The company has additional restaurants in Red Bank, and New Hope, Pa. All are currently closed due to the pandemic.