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article imageSan Francisco passes torch on Old Mint restoration

By Nathan Salant     Mar 24, 2015 in Business
San Francisco - The city’s 1874 U.S. Mint may one day roar back to life as a museum or other featured attraction, but probably not the way a leading local nonprofit group has envisioned for more than 10 years.
City officials pulled the plus last week on the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society’s long-anticipated restoration of the historic mint, which produced U.S. coins from 1874 to 1937.
The old mint at Fifth and Mission streets in downtown San Francisco, was the successor to the original Gold Rush-era plant on Commercial Street.
The nonprofit group planned to turn the landmark building into a museum of city history and had been leasing the structure at no cost while raising money and planning the renovation.
But in a letter last week, the city said “a lack of progress” in renovating the granite Greek Revival-style building “has forced us to pursue alternative means,” for its restoration.
San Francisco's property director, John Updike, told the nonprofit that it would have to vacate the building by Aug. 1 and that the city would likely lease the building to a performing arts company for live theater presentations, according to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.
Updike's letter praised the group for offering "a glimpse of what this treasure can and should become" but said the city had decided to "move on" after the nonprofit missed some important building improvement deadlines.
“It is very unfortunate,” said Kevin Pursglove, president of the nonprofit's board of directors.
"We were hoping we could stay there,” he said.
Pursglove said his nonprofit has spent more than $14 million on restoration of the old mint but the building, which survived the 1906 earthquake that destroyed most of downtown San Francisco, still needed $60 million in seismic and other upgrades.
A future as a museum and showcase seemed fitting for the old building, which once figured prominently in the nation's financial picture.
The equipment produced U.S. coins from the copious amounts of gold found in the Sierra Nevada mountains during the Gold Rush that began in 1849, and the building's vaults held as much as a third of the country's gold supply.
Updike’s letter praised the organization’s events at the mint for providing “a glimpse of what this treasure can and should become,” the newspaper said.
However, the letter said the society had missed a number of “critical milestones” in improving the building, and the city decided “to move on” and choose a new redevelopment partner.
"The city will continue to plan for a full-time renovation project and the ultimate restoration of (the Mint) as a museum to tell the history of San Francisco, the region, and beyond,” Updike's letter said.
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