Group wants to breathe new life into old mint

April 26, 2011 7:22:50 PM PDT
San Francisco's old mint has been a landmark since the time it was built in the 1870s. It once held one-third of the nation's wealth in its vaults, but when the Treasury Department left in the mid-90s, its future seemed uncertain. But now, planners hope it will become a golden opportunity.

San Francisco's old mint spent decades turning the gold and silver from the hills into coins. Today, the "granite lady" at Mission and 5th streets in San Francisco sits empty, a quiet monument to that bygone era.

"This building is a national historic landmark," San Francisco Museum and Historical Society President Jim Lazarus said.

The San Francisco Museum and Historical Society is in the process of breathing new life into the old mint by turning it into a San Francisco city museum.

"We do need to complete seismic upgrades, mechanicals, electrical, plumbing, ADA compliance," Lazarus said.

The old mint housed treasury offices until 1995 and was handed over to the city in 2003. It was the bank that funded the reconstruction of the city after the 1906 quake and was one of the few buildings to survive it without being damaged.

"The greatest challenge was probably figuring out how to honor the history of the building, to preserve it and to repurpose it, if you will, to renew it into something that's meaningful not just for our time, but for the next 50 or 100 years," architect Paul Woolford said. Woolford is the design director for the architects re-imagining the building.

Natural light will replace lamps and fresh air will be circulated from the outside. The three-foot thick walls will control the temperature.

But there will be modern twists. A floor put in decades ago will be replaced with glass to light the galleries below it. Above that will be a soaring glass roof. Not only will it protect the deteriorating facade, but it will also collect rain water that will be used to water a roof top garden. That garden will replicate the wetlands that once stood where the building sits today.

"It will be one of the most environmentally innovative national historic landmarks in the United States," Woolford said.

The first phase of planning was funded by the sale of specially minted coins and private contributions.

"After $13 million in the last seven years, we're now at the point to do the final fundraising and start construction of the building," lazarus said.

Another $35 million must be raised to open part of the building to the public. They hope to start construction by next summer and open by the end of 2013. But that only finishes part of the project. The final price tag to finish the building is expected to be close to $90 million.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel

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