More than a place for mail to gather

Just as she has done for the last 50 years, Jean Hylton, 85, on Monday walked into the small, buttercup-yellow, one-story building on Pacific Coast Highway between 10th and 11th streets.

The building wasn't always yellow — it recently underwent a much-needed spruce that is almost done. The only thing missing is the sign on the front that reads, "Sunset Beach Post Office."

In navy jersey pants, a matching nautical striped shirt and large black sunglasses with her blond, curly hair, Hylton just stopped in to pick up her mail after running to the store like she does any other day.

But the simple task can't be done without running into someone she knows.

"It's very cozy," she said. "Everybody's here. You meet all your friends."

The post office, she said, hasn't changed much in half a century, but many in the community are concerned Huntington Beach will soon come in and ruin their small-town way of life now that the city is moving forward with annexing Sunset Beach, but what changes, if any, will happen under Huntington's stewardship remain to be seen.

Sunset's unique mail system, though, isn't up for takeover, Sunset Beach Postmaster Corinne Brubaker said.

"It's been this way since the beginning," she said. "Huntington Beach can't change the system."

In Sunset Beach, a small community of about 1,300 nestled just north of Huntington Beach between the Pacific Ocean and Huntington Harbour, residents don't have to worry about budget cuts to the post office taking away their Saturday delivery, because they've never gotten mail delivered on Saturdays, or any other day.

Residents pick up their mail from the yellow post office, leased by the U.S. Postal Service, where their mail is delivered to P.O. boxes. The building is open to everyone, and some Huntington Beach and Seal Beach residents pick up their mail there, but all Sunset Beach residents, renters and homeowners alike, have access to a numbered box free of charge.

Resident Richard Moody, 93, a contractor, built the post office right after he returned from World War II for a local who wanted a "little" building, he said. It started out as part ice cream parlor, part post office, and the post office portion ultimately took over the building, Moody said.

Sunset Beach residents have always had to pick up their mail, but it hasn't caught the ire of residents. Instead, it has the opposite effect.

Residents love going to pick up their mail, said Greg Griffin, president of the Sunset Beach Community Assn.

"There is a lot of identity wrapped up in the post office," he said. "You get to recognize who your neighbors are."

The post office staff knows almost everyone by name and some by their box numbers as well. When residents come in, they are greeted by name, maybe given a hug and asked how they are.

Brubaker said she knows what time every day she will be seeing certain residents, and the employees regularly have packages ready for residents before they present their pick-up tickets.

"There's a lot of regulars, a lot of regulars," she said.

When longtime resident Julie Lurie first moved to Sunset Beach, she would get letters addressed to "Julie, Sunset Beach" and no further address.

While letter-senders need to include a full address these days, the appeal of the community's mail system hasn't lost its appeal for Lurie, who said she goes every day.

"I talk to my neighbors on the way," she said. "It's so fun. You always see people you know and just catch up on whatever is going on in town."

The building is the "hub" of the community, said Brubaker, who has worked there for almost four years and for the U.S. Postal Service for almost 30.

On the front of the building is a bulletin board where the community hangs fliers and the latest Sunset Beach Community Assn. and Sunset Beach Sanitary District agendas and minutes.

Residents regularly set up tables outside the post office to sell tickets for community events and fundraisers, Brubaker said.

"Most of the stuff they do is done in the post office," she said. "This is the meeting place."

Over the last year, Brubaker has heard a lot of talk about annexation and incorporation, but while the emotionally charged subject has caused some discord in the community, tempers have never flared in her post office.

And Brubaker would know. In the small building, the post office employees can hear everything, she said. A smile came to her face when asked about any juicy gossip she has overheard, but she loyally declined.

"We hear a lot back there," she said.

Muralist Wanted

The Sunset Beach Post Office is looking for a local artist to create a mural for the side of the newly painted building to replace the one that was painted over.

The Mural Art Contest is open to Sunset Beach, Surfside and Huntington Beach residents and customers.

Entrants must create a hand-produced, 8-by-10-inch flat work of art that relates to Sunset Beach.

All entries must be received by Sept. 1 and have the artist's name, address, phone number and e-mail address on the back. Residents may also include a 50-word-or-less statement about their work.

For more information, contact Sunset Beach Postmaster Corinne Brubaker at (562) 592-5021.

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