Grant sets table for Old Mint restoration

A $1 million state grant announced Tuesday¬†will go toward planning for the planned restoration of San Francisco’s historic Old U.S. Mint.

The grant, awarded to the California Historical Society, will help complete studies needed to develop a plan to transform the 142-year-old South of Market building into a historic, cultural and learning center, city and state officials said today.

The 100,000-square-foot, three-story building at 88 Fifth St., the country’s second mint, was completed in 1874, withstood the 1906 earthquake and operated as a mint until 1937.

It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961 and sold to San Francisco for $1 in 2003 with the help of former San Francisco mayor and current U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

The city has struggled since then, however, to find a new use for the building, which requires extensive rehabilitation. A 2006 lease to the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society was later canceled when that organization failed to raise the funds needed to restore the building for use as a history museum.

In April, the city announced a new partnership with the California Historical Society, a statewide organization that actually predates the building. The group is working to evaluate how to restore the building, estimate costs and develop cultural viability and financing plans for the project, with the goal of submitting a plan to the city within two years.

“The Old U.S. Mint represents an important piece of San Francisco’s rich history,” Mayor Ed Lee said in the Old Mint’s courtyard today. “This grant provides critical funding that will bring us closer to restoring this iconic landmark into a center for culture and learning for all San Franciscans and visitors to our great city.” The grant was obtained with the help of state Sen. Mark Leno and Assemblyman Phil Ting.

Leno, D-San Francisco, noted that while the Old Mint is in San Francisco, it is a statewide and national resource.

“The Old Mint is a true landmark that reflects California’s glorious past while envisioning its brilliant future,” Leno said.

Ting reflected that many people had not understood when former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown spent millions to renovate City Hall, but “people from around the world come to see it now.” “There are so many people, not just in San Francisco, that are really proud of that building,” Ting said.