In our present recession-economy and talk of deficits mounting into the billions of dollars, it is interesting to note that at one time at least one-third of the United States gold was securely stored in San Francisco.
Well, yeah, that was over 100 years ago, but it is interesting to know and might lift our spirits amid the dreary financial forecasts.
And, it is with that inspiration of San Francisco’s former glory that the SF Museum and Historical Society (SFMHS) seeks to obtain funds to restore and renovate the Old Mint on Fifth and Mission Streets, not far from busy downtown.
Six years ago, a formal groundbreaking took place to get the restoration and renovation project going. Yet SFMHS CFO Kurt Nystrom admitted that the reopening of a fully restored and renovated Old Mint as a museum and visitor’s center will be delayed past 2012.
Part of the reason for the slow process was that the initial idea for the project was a bit over-estimated. The restoration work and obtaining the permits needed is going to take longer than anticipated. “Doing this in phases is more feasible, each phase separately and not as all-in-one package as envisioned originally,” said Nystrom as he talked with this reporter at a history lecture this past May.
Cleaning up the main building would be the major focus to start with. The 130-year-old building was built in a Greek Revival Style back in the early 1870s. It had been modestly maintained as a historical site, but in the past 15 years the Old Mint had been abandoned by the Federal Government since it officially closed to the public in 1993.
Speaking on behalf of the SFMHS, Kathleen Iudice noted that by 2006, SFMHS initiated another phase of interior renovations that allowed for special events and activities to take place within the building.
"In 2007, Jesse Street (adjacent to the Old Mint), was closed to vehicular traffic and converted into a public plaza, designed to accommodate a wide range of uses, including art exhibitions, live music and street fairs," she said.
Referred to as “The Granite Lady” the Old Mint was and still is a solid fortress. She survived the Earthquake and Fire of 1906 and survived yet again the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989. Even with endurance and stamina still intact she needs renovation to meet current seismic codes and to withstand 21st century utility, wear and tear.
Nystrom told this reporter pretty much what he had said to the SF Examiner, “if we were funded tomorrow, we could open the first major part of the building in probably under three years,” he said.
Establishing galleries for exhibits would be at the second or perhaps third phases and “a visitor’s center would be added later,” said Nystrom.
"Completion of the first phase of construction will cost approximately $50 million," said Nystrom. "This will open the main floor's history of San Francisco exhibits and the vault level's exhibits for the gold rush and the Mint as well as the museum store and cafe," he added. "The total project cost is estimated at $90 million for the complete restoration of the whole building," said Nystrom.
Back in 2005 when an official ground-breaking ceremony inaugurated the renovation project, there was a lot of optimism for the effort. Consulting curator Bob Macdonald was interviewed by this reporter back then and Macdonald was confident the effort could and would be accomplished. His resume includes working for the Smithsonian and for Museum of the City of New York.
But with the on-set of the recession plans faced set-backs, despite their best intentions. No doubt it is hard to ask for donations when budget cuts are impacting even the most basic of infrastructures.
Iudice also said that further restoration is expected to commence in 2012. "In the meantime, SFMHS will continue to move forward with ongoing tours, activities, special events, exhibitions and lease for private events; all of which serve to build community awareness and increase the value of the Old Mint as a vibrant entity and resource," said Iudice.
Also, an outside, expert evaluation estimates that more than 1,000 jobs will be created with a $35 - $45 million annual economic benefit once it opens. The SF Historical Society believes the time to move forward with this project is now.
Nystrom and others at the SFMHS are eager to take on the challenge, they want to offer tours of the Old Mint and schedule them on a regular basis by request.
For more information contact the SF Museum and Historical Society visit their web site.