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California: Transfer of the Old U.S. Mint,
San Francisco

Agency: General Services Administration

Criteria for ACHP Involvement:

  • Transfer out of Federal ownership could adversely affect the Old U.S. Mint, a National Historic Landmark (Criterion 1).

  • The building is a much-beloved local landmark, and its proposed transfer has created substantial public controversy related to historic preservation issues (Criterion 3).

Recent Developments

In an onsite meeting in late May 2001, ACHP staff, the General Services Administration (GSA), and the consulting parties discussed the terms of a proposed Programmatic Agreement (PA) for transfer of the Old U.S. Mint from the Federal Government to the City of San Francisco.

Old U.S. Mint, San Francisco



Old U.S. Mint, San Francisco, CA
(staff photo)




In its current form, the PA and associated documents call for the city to implement a public process of soliciting proposals for redevelopment of the building. A mayoral task force, on which ACHP staff would serve, would be empowered to review the proposals and make a recommendation to the Mayor on which proposal should be selected for acceptance by the City’s Board of Supervisors.

The consulting parties have until mid-June to provide written comments on the draft PA, which will be considered by GSA, the city, the California State Historic Preservation Office, and ACHP in crafting a final document for execution.


The Old U.S. Mint was completed in 1874 and was designed by Alfred B. Mullett, who, as Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department, oversaw the design and construction of more than 40 Federal buildings across America. A massive masonry building in the Classical Revival style, the Old U.S. Mint was constructed to house the large quantities of gold and silver that flowed from mines in California and other parts of the West during the late 19th century.

At one time, fully one-third of the United States’ gold reserve was stored in its vaults, which are still extant in the basement. In 1906, Treasury Department employees and the United States Army, working with only a one-inch hose connected to two wells on the property, saved the building—along with $200 million in gold stored in its vaults—from the fire that followed the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

After minting operations were transferred to a new facility in 1937, the building was occupied by the Treasury Department and other Federal agencies. In 1972, the Old Mint Museum opened in the eastern half of the building while Treasury Department offices occupied the remainder of the building. Following transfer of the building from the Treasury Department to GSA, it was closed to the public in December 1994. Closure of the building sparked significant public interest.

Several public meetings regarding the potential for reuse have been held, with the active participation of Senators Boxer and Feinstein. GSA’s current plan is to transfer the building out of Federal ownership, and the City of San Francisco has expressed interest in obtaining it.

Since GSA initiated Section 106 consultation in Spring 2000, a number of groups and individuals have participated in consultation, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation, San Francisco Architectural Heritage, the San Francisco Architectural Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board, the Museum of the City of San Francisco, and former Treasury Department employees.

Of particular concern to the consulting parties is the estimated expense to reuse the building. Rehabilitation costs will be substantial, particularly given the need to seismically retrofit the building, which will cost $20 to $37 million. GSA has cited its inability to secure funding for this purpose as the primary reason for not retaining the building in its inventory.

Policy Highlights

ACHP staff and GSA have been exploring creative solutions to the issue of preservation covenant enforcement. The proposed draft PA reflects a substantial level of ongoing ACHP staff involvement in the review and analysis of development proposals as well as the review of construction drawings and specifications.

In addition, the agreement calls for GSA and ACHP to work cooperatively to enforce the preservation convenants once the property has been transferred out of Federal ownership and control.

Staff contact: Ralston Cox

Updated June 6, 2002

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