from an old post card, photo of the old San Francisco Mint, CA    

original drawing of San Francisco Mint

Old San Francisco Mint Building By A.B. Mullett: current status, future in planning and some of its past.

The city and County of San Francisco is offering a development opportunity: "To Rehabilitate, develop, and operate the historic Old Mint, a 77,000 square foot building under a 66 year ground lease with the city. The Old Mint is located at the heart of the active Mid-Market/ Yerba Buena commercial and cultural corridor at 88 Fifth Street between Market and Mission streets, bounded by Jessie and Mint Streets. ..." The due date to submit proposals has been extended to 5:00 p.m. (PST) October 18, 2002. The financial deposit requirement has been dropped. See the Old Mint website at www.sfgov.org/sfmint. Attn: Ms. Hala Hijazi, Project Manager, Mayor's Office of Economic Development, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 436, San Francisco, CA 94102. (415) 554-6481 (office) 554-6018 (fax) hala.hijazi@sfgov.org .

Some of the past history of the Old San Fancisco Mint is in our publications: A. B. Mullett: Diaries Etc . and in A.B. Mullett: His Relevance in American Architecture and Historic Preservation. There is a new publication available which tells more about the Mint activities as a producer of coins and for the most part well documented, correcting some confusions and myths that abound over the years. A Mighty Fortress 1874-1937 The Stories Behind the 2nd San Francisco Mint. by Richard G. Kelly and Nancy Y. Oliver. This building is registered as a National Historic Building. Some information is available from the HABS web pages of the Library of Congress but not all of the HABS information is complete nor 100% reliable.

The City of San Francisco negotiated with the Federal Government division Government Services Agency [GSA] for the transfer of ownership of the building. The Government has been spreading false information about the security of the building and then began to tie the hands of any future purchaser claiming that the building needed seismic retrofitting which it does not. It does need to have the dirt cleaned out and we are told it is now free of the rats that the Government allowed to run the building from the early days of the Clinton administration when it was decided to close the building. That was the beginning of the Government's maligning of the structure. The GSA allowed the gutters and downspouts to go unrepaired to the extent that the stone surrounding and below many parts of the gutters and downspouts began to decay. Some of this stone will now need to be replaced because the government allowed so much penetration of water for so long.

original front Old S.F. Mint

The Federal General Services Administration and the City have agreed to the terms for the conveyance of ownership of the Old Mint. The conveyance documents include a quit claim deed with covenants requiring the City or any subsequent owners to (i) comply with the Secretary's Standards in any alteration or rehabilitation of the Old Mint, and (ii) to obtain the approval of the State's Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) regarding such alterations at various stages in the design and construction process. The City has also negotiated with the GSA the terms of a Programmatic Agreement that, among other things, sets forth a coherent process for securing SHPO's approvals under the Deed, resolving disputes, and disignates specific roles for a Historic Preservation Consultant in connection with any construction work. The terms of the Deed and the Programmatic Agreement would be binding upon any Developer. Both the Deed and the PA reference a Historic Structures Report that defines the character defining spaces and features of the Old Mint (HSR). The City has prepared a HSR that has been reviewed and approved by SHPO and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP)." [Quoted from "Request for Proposals" Mayor's Office, City of San Francisco.

The GSA regulations are claiming that the building is "in need of seismic rehabilitation." This is not true but since it is in the requirements, unless someone can convince GSA that they need to revise their requirements. GSA is enforcing this change. Since the building is floated and has withstood the biggest earthquakes in San Francisco, changing the current foundation will destroy an important historical feature of the foundation of this building. GSA had probably only consulted seismic investigators who are in favor of the new technology that puts buildings on base isolation technology. Not only is this technology expensive but considering the building is already floated, they will be removing that and installing it on the equivalent of giant ball bearings to move on during earthquakes. This is still an unproved theoretical process. The current floated structure will need to have stone work repaired due to lack of maintenance. The ground under the foundation is insecure and needs the type of full reinforced concrete with pilings it now has. The structural walls of the building are secured to the foundation with iron bolts. If anything gives or needs repairs in this structure due to lack of maintenance it might be due to the Government allowing so much water seepage into the structure that iron bolts may have rusted and may need to be reinforced with new clamps that would secure the structural walls to the foundation. Part of the principle of base isolation is to separate the building from the surrounding ground so that what the ground shakes the building will be on its own foundation separated from the tremors. But that is, in fact, the basis behind the current structure, floating it! In other words, the structure already is isolated from the surrounding ground from the base. The principle of base isolation does not require reinforced walls. However this building does have a certain degree of reinforcement in securing the walls inside each floor level and with the use of brick arches between the horizontal iron beams and other supports. New is not necessarily better. Base Isolation is a modern version of floating using ball bearings instead of the float but in each case the building is isolated from the surrounding earth when there are tremors. This is why not one coin moved in a huge display in the big 1902 earthquake.

The building also contains asbestos which was a new technology for fire proofing metal pipes and other metal parts in 1870s. And there are still some lead elements in the building from early construction. Other requirements are common, repairing the roof, gutters and downspouts to protect the building from rains. However, these regulations include "moisture protection" which is also a new technology of putting a waterproofing coating on the stone which is of debateable value as it does not allow any moisture content in the stone already to escape and does not allow the stone to "breathe" creating a possibility of further deterioration of the stone. Fire safety standards have changed so work will be needed after the asbestos is removed to ensure safety in the building in case of fire and adequate means of escape. There is, of course, a need for new HVAC systems. There are two chimneys remaining in the building which could pose danger in a severe earthquake. These will need some attentive planning. The Request for Proposals claims that the brick infrastructure is unreinforced and that the stonework facia is unreinforced. Actually there are certain bolting systems within the construction, some may be deteriorating due to poor maintenance on the Old Mint by the Government over the years. 

The City of San Francisco has a schedule planned for the Mint Project. At the September 16 meeting of the Old Mint Task Force the City has extended the deadline for submitting responses to October 18 and waived the requirement of the initial $50,000 deposit. In the Mayor and Board of Supervisors followed these recommendations of the committee and they are asking "any entities submitting proposals in response to the RFP [to] make a presentation regarding the contents of ... [proposals submitted] at the Old Mint Task Force regularly scheduled meeting of Monday, October 21, 2002.

One thing that frightened the ignorant government officials about the building were photos of the S.F Mint chimneys that were removed after the earthquake of 1906 because they did suffer some cracks. The chimneys stayed in place throughout the quakes, but had fissures that called for either rebuilding them or removal. There had been damage to the facia stone from fires in neighboring buildings following the earthquake which required these stones to be replaced but the building was secure. After the second earthquake in 1992 however, not a fissue appeared, not a coin fell to the ground. It was the safest place to be in that seismic rumble.

Following the earthquake of 1906, the fire burned the facia stone on one side of the mint but this facia was easily replaced and did not create any problems to the interior walls, the structural walls were sound and undamaged. The Mint building was ready for business immediately while all the banks were gone along with most of the major businesses of downtown San Francisco.
slight earthquake damage 1906
photo of ater 1906 eathquake, the only damage to the mint were the small cracks in these chimneys - chimneys removed soon after The chimney damage after the 1906 earthquake, nothing hit the ground, the tall chimneys were removed to the height just below the crack and the chimneys not needed were removed. Currently the two tall chimneys in the back extend to 47 feet above the roof. 

Return to home page


copyright 2002 all rights reserved Mullett-Smith Press.