Update 5:30 p.m. Sunday: Workers hired by Po Lee Lin began disassembling the mailbox Sunday afternoon, although it will largely be intact and visible one final night since the work was limited to putting up scaffolding and removing a few preliminary screws. Jan Olov Dahl, supervisor of the project, said the work should take about three days. Details added to story below.
Original story: For a final night the nearly 10-meter-high Santa’s mailbox was lit up so people could come and say goodbye before its owner started taking it down the next day. Except plans to let people take a final look inside it were thwarted when the city sealed the entrance door at the back with screws. So, after being on the losing end of many months of legal battles, Po Lin Lee staged one final act of defiance.
With the help of a couple of friends who showed up with electronic tools and removed the screws, she took a final trip Saturday inside the two-story structure and talked about the many dreams she had for the mailbox she had built at her own expense at the end of 2013.
“Why do they always want to make me cry?” she said after discovering the screws apparently inserted shortly before the gathering.
Her emotional and often tearful narratives of the mailbox’s history spanned the four years during which it was welcomed during a celebration shortly before Christmas in 2013 to when its permit expired two years later to when the city, which ran out of patience at her failure to submit a proper renewal application, ordered her to remove it a year ago. Since then she has been been fined 500 kroner a day since last Nov. 1 for failing to do so and was informed workers would start doing so Monday and bill her a minimum of 129,000 kroner for the work, in addition to the fines that as of now are approaching about 200,000 kroner.
Lee, in a Facebook post Friday, struck back by declaring she would disassemble the mailbox before the city could demolish it and invited the public to view it Saturday for a final time.
“I decided to take it down piece by piece,” she wrote. “I don’t accept they murder my best friend (the big mailbox) by using big machines.”
While talking to visitors seeing the mailbox for a final time she alternated between tales of being allegedly being targeted for legal and personal reasons, and her dreams for the mailbox and charitable offerings to somehow keep its spirit alive in lieu of the huge financial fees she’s facing. She also clung, remotely, to the hope it might one stand again in Longyearbyen if another dream of owning a hotel propery here becomes a reality, or least on a site elsewhere.
“I want to save it,” she said. ” I want to ship it to a place that will welcome it.”
LNS Spitsbergen is scheduled to begin demolishing the mailbox Monday under a contract from the city, but Lee said she has hired people from mainland to take apart the structure piece by piece and photograph it so there’s a “drawing of how to put it up again” – for less than what LNS bid for the job.
Jan Olov Dahl, hired by Lee as the supervisor for the project, said he expects the work to take three days, compared to the five days LNS estimated, because the foundation of the structure is not being disassembled. He said the parts of the mailbox will be stored outside Lee’s workshop adjacent to the mailbox.
The mailbox has generated plenty of controversy since the city ordered it removed, with some saying they consider it unsightly regardless of its legal status. A post on a Longyearbyen community Facebook page by Lee about her plans to take the mailbox herself while lamenting the city’s insistence on the decision received replies from those both happy and sad about the removal – but a large number also noted Lee had a long time to comply with permitting and other requirements and failed to do so.
“If this is your best friend (as you write) then I think you should have taken better care of your friend,” wrote Rune Moen, general manager of Svalbard Busservice. “I think you should have grabbed this in due time and arranged with the proper formalities, so maybe your best friend could still have stood where he stands. I am not against this mailbox as it has made a lot of extra stops for both our taxis and buses with tourists who want to take pictures and hear the story of this mailbox. And we have received many nice feedback. But you must have the papers in order for your best friend to stand where he stands.”