The San Francisco Museum at the Mint, 88 Fifth St. (Planning, Design or Conception) – San Francisco – 94103
The San Francisco Mint is a branch of the United States Mint, and was opened in 1854 to serve the gold mines of the California Gold Rush. It quickly outgrew its first building and moved into a new one in 1874. This building, the Old United States Mint, also known affectionately as The Granite Lady, is one of the few that survived the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It served until 1937, when the present facility was opened
Within the first year of its operation, the San Francisco mint turned $4 million in gold bullion into coins. The second building, completed in 1874, was designed by Alfred B. Mullett in a conservative Greek Revival style with a sober Doric order. The building had a central pedimented portico flanked by projecting wings in an E-shape; it was built round a completely enclosed central courtyard that contained a well—the features that saved it during the fire of 1906, when the heat melted the plate glass windows and exploded sandstone and granite blocks with which it was faced. The building sat on a concrete and granite foundation, designed to thwart tunneling into its vaults, which at the time of the 1906 fire held $300 million, fully a third of the United States’ gold reserves. Heroic efforts by Superintendent of the Mint, Frank A. Leach, and his men preserved the building and the bullion that then backed the nation’s currency. The mint resumed operation soon thereafter, continuing until 1937.
In 1961 the Old Mint, as it had become known, was designated a National Historic Landmark. It also became a California Historical Landmark in 1974. The given name of “The Granite Lady” is somewhat of a misnomer as most of the building is made from sandstone. While the base/basement of the building is made of granite, the entire external and upper stories are made of sandstone. The Granite Lady was a marketing term given in the 1970s that stuck.
The Old Mint was open to visitors until 1993. In 2003 the federal government sold the structure to the City of San Francisco for one dollar—an 1879 silver dollar struck at the mint— for use as a historical museum to be called the San Francisco Museum at the Mint. In the fall of 2005, ground was broken for renovations that would turn the central court into a glass-enclosed galleria. In 2006 Congress created the San Francisco Old Mint Commemorative Coin, the first coin to honor a United States mint (Pub.L. 109–230). The first phase of renovations were completed in 2011, and as of 2014, the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society is raising money for the second phase, which will include permanent exhibitions. The Old Mint is used for special events, some open to the public.
The new Mint was opened in 1937. Beginning in 1955, circulating coinage from San Francisco was suspended for 13 years. In 1968, it took over most proof coinage production from the Philadelphia Mint, but continued striking a supplemental circulating coinage from 1968 through 1974. Since 1975, the San Francisco Mint has been used only for proof coinage, with the exception of the Susan B. Anthony dollar from 1979–81 and a portion of the mintage of cents in the early 1980s. The dollars bear a mintmark of an “S”, but the cents are otherwise indistinguishable from those minted at Philadelphia (which bear no mintmarks, unlike those years’ proof cents from San Francisco and circulation cents from Denver). From 1962 to 1988, the San Francisco Mint was officially an assay office; the San Francisco Assay Office was granted mint status again on March 31, 1988 (Pub.L. 100–274). The San Francisco Mint is located at 155 Hermann Street, but does not admit visitors, except rarely. On May 15, 1987, a limited number of people were allowed to tour the facility. This tour was advertised in the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, with a phone number to call to reserve a spot.
San Francisco Museum at the Mint…
…serves as a cultural resource and civic attraction, sharing the San Francisco Bay Area story with residents and visitors by providing exhibitions, educational programs, and interactive and immersive experiences in a National Historic Landmark building that is a model of sustainable preservation.
San Francisco Museum at the Mint
This old United States Mint in San Francisco was designed by Alfred B. Mullett and completed in 1874. The 102,000 square foot building, spanning four floors, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961 for its importance as “the last major example of classical revival architecture” in the United States. The Mint embodies the resilient spirit of San Francisco, having survived the 1906 earthquake and fire. It played a pivotal role in the financial life of the country by serving as a repository for a third of the nation’s gold reserves until 1937.
Fifth Street at Mission Street in downtown San Francisco, near the Powell Street MUNI Station and BART.
$14 million raised in Phase One. Phase Two Capital Campaign underway.
The Museum Experience
The San Francisco Museum at the Mint will offer an exciting new learning environment that brings history and culture to life in a relevant, fun and engaging manner. Experiences at the Museum will explain, inspire, and teach, promoting conversation, inquiry and discovery.
Interactive Learning Centers
Visitors will have the opportunity to engage with Bay Area history through a wide range of interactive and participatory learning environments, including:
Schools Center – a welcoming learning place in the museum for teachers and their students to enrich school curriculum.
Storylab – a place where visitors create, curate, and collaborate on their own connections to Bay Area history.
Prediction Theater – a facilitated, game-like scenario planning experience in which visitors explore potential visions of the future.
Put Yourself in History – Experiences that integrate a smart phone platform, social network applications, interactive exhibit stations, and programs and publications to link personal and family histories with the history of the Bay Area.
Mix of Experiences
When restored, the unique mix of experiences at the Museum will include:
Themed chronology of San Francisco Bay Area History
San Francisco Visitors Information Center
American Money and Gold Rush Experience
Multiple Learning Centers
Bay Area Cultural Retail
Historic Event Rental Spaces
Outdoor Landscaped Environments
Gateway to the Bay Area
The San Francisco Museum at the Mint will house a new Visitors Information Center that will offer customized travel-related multilingual information and advice. It will become a starting point for visitors, offering more than 100 historical and cultural threads from which visitors can choose as they create a personalized orientation to the region’s vast network of cultural institutions, historic sites, and landmarks.
The San Francisco Museum at the Mint will be a dynamic catalyst for economic activity, particularly in the Yerba Buena and Mid-Market Neighborhoods. The project is expected to inject close to $150 million of economic stimulus into the region creating 227 pre-construction jobs and another 729 jobs during construction. When completed, the Museum will draw more than 1 million people to downtown San Francisco each year, generating $46 million annually in new direct and indirect sales, plus 375 new direct and indirect jobs and estimated annual tax revenues of $836,000.
The San Francisco Museum at the Mint’s business model is demand-driven—built on four revenue centers designed to attract a dedicated customer base and also create synergies: Museum Admissions, 3rd party Event Rental, Dining, and Retail sales (in-store and on-line). Earned revenues will cover 85%+ of the annual operating expenses, significantly above the 20% – 50% range of traditional museums. Our operating goal is to be independent of a need for public funds, and to maximize endowment revenue and other annual funds raised towards community outreach and education.
James Lazarus, President, San Francisco Museum and Historical Society
Kurt Nystrom, Chief Operating Officer, San Francisco Museum and Historical Society
Ira Michael Heyman, Advisor, Secretary Emeritus of the Smithsonian Institution
Petr Spurney, Business Model analyst, PETR Productions
Architects: Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum, San Francisco, CA, Paul Woolford, Senior Vice President and Design Principal
Engineers: Arup Engineering, San Francisco, CA
Landscape Architect: Hood Design, Oakland, CA, Walter Hood, Principal
Historic Preservation: Page & Turnbull, San Francisco, CA, & Architectural Resources Group, San Francisco, CA
Exhibit Designer: Christopher Chadbourne and Associates, Boston, MA, Christopher Chadbourne, Principal
The San Francisco Museum at the Mint aims to be one of the few museums in the world that achieves LEED Platinum certification and is operationally carbon neutral. Our commitment to sustainability will take advantage of the Mint’s inherent physical features (e.g. massive masonry walls, large smokestacks) and combine them with new and innovative technologies that will significantly reduce the building’s energy uses (e.g. water, heat, lighting, etc.). A prominent and historically significant structure, the restored Mint will demonstrate sustainable design in a public setting and create a precedent for existing buildings and other landmark structures.
The Museum Experience
As visitors move through four floors of the restored National Landmark San Francisco Mint, they will experience the natural forces; relive the historic events; share the individual stories; and discover the special places that created and continue to shape the San Francisco Bay Area.
The entire Bay Area region has too many things to do, places to discover and experiences to enjoy in a single visit. Therefore, we have designed the Museum to become a ‘starting place’ for out-of-town visitors and residents alike. By coming here first, visitors can gain a comprehensive orientation to the region and make a connection to their daily lives and personal interests.
The San Francisco Museum At The Mint offers:
History Exhibits on the San Francisco Bay Area, American Money, The Gold Rush, and The Old Mint
Seventeen galleries of immersive and engaging exhibits that chronicle the region’s key development periods and lay a foundation for further learning and exploration.
Experience the growth of the city through its history, the impact of the gold rush on its commerce, and the contributions of its residents to neighborhood cultures.
The Mint, also known as the “Granite Lady,” will feature stations located throughout the building that interpret its history and architectural features.
Official San Francisco Visitors Information Center
Customized travel-related information in multiple languages that orients visitors to the region’s vast network of cultural institutions, historic sites and landmarks.
Interactive Learning Centers and Innovation Wing
Participatory learning experiences that invite visitors to share their own connections to the area’s history and to consider future possibilities resulting from the actions we take today.
An exciting mix of authentic Bay Area experiences and unique merchandise, inspired and sourced directly from the local region. Selections will change frequently to highlight current cultural trends and seasonal offerings.
An opportunity for residents and visitors to spend time in a unique mix of historic rooms and authentic vaults dating from 1874. From intimate dinners to grand parties, the Mint’s unique vaults, ornate counting rooms, canopied courtyard, and spectacular roof garden rooms will provide guests a one-of-a-kind public and private event experience.
“Join Us on the FlipSide!”
FlipSide, a part of The San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, was founded to engage a younger generation of San Francisco history enthusiasts. Through awareness, the ultimate goal is to help foster the creation and ongoing operation of a world class museum in San Francisco’s Old Mint. This National Historic Landmark at Fifth and Mission Streets will be transformed into the San Francisco Museum at the Mint where visitors can experience the stories that shaped San Francisco through state-of-the-art interactive exhibits. All FlipSide events benefit the museum project and include exclusive parties at The Old Mint, Historic Bar Crawls, Lectures, etc.