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Will San Francisco gain a new landmark? Old U.S. Mint receives funds for a face-lift plan

Will San Francisco gain a new landmark? Old U.S. Mint receives funds for a face-lift plan
The Old U.S. Mint was built in 1874, shown in a photo during construction. (Courtesy California Historical Society)

Oh, to be old and beloved in San Francisco. The U.S. Mint building, which dates to 1874, withstood the city's devastating 1906 earthquake and subsequent fires, and once housed America's gold reserves.

Now the landmark, which has been neglected for years, stands to make a comeback as an arts, historical and cultural center.

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The state of California on Nov. 22 awarded a $1-million grant to the California Historical Society, in partnership with the city and county of San Francisco, to come up with plans for restoring the Greek Revival building at 88 5th St.

"To be in that building is breathtaking," says Marianne Thompson, project manager for the city's Office of Economic and Workforce Development. "It's from a time and era, and craftsmanship, I'll never see in my lifetime."

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee looks on at the front of the Old U.S. Mint as Anthea Hartig, executive director of the California Historical Society, describes architectural details.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee looks on at the front of the Old U.S. Mint as Anthea Hartig, executive director of the California Historical Society, describes architectural details. (Amy Sullivan)

Indeed, the granite and sandstone building, which resembles a Greek temple, houses 100,000 square feet, space that could be used for a museum, special events, nonprofit art organizations and projects, and more, Thompson says.

This Mint closed in 1937 and the building became a national historic landmark in 1961. It was sold to the city in 2003 for $1. These days, it's used for special events and pop-up art shows, but it isn't open to the public.

(Incidentally, there's still a U.S. Mint in San Francisco at 155 Hermann St. but it doesn't allow visitors either.)

"If you grew up in San Francisco, your school went on a tour of the Old Mint," Thompson says. Now, the long-term goal is to preserve the building as an educational link to the city's past.

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