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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

Following several months of discussion and debate, ACHP, the General Services Administration (GSA), the California State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), and the city of San Francisco have reached a Programmatic Agreement (PA) and quitclaim deed for transfer of the Old U.S. Mint from the Federal Government to the city. The proposed deed includes covenant language addressing future treatment of the building, and the draft PA spells out the process by which the City will submit its development plans to the California SHPO for approval.

While earlier drafts provided for a significant continuing review role for ACHP, the consulting parties have agreed the California SHPO will take on that responsibility. Drafts of the PA and quitclaim deed have been provided to the consulting parties for review.

These developments clear the way for the city to take title to the building prior to the selection of a developer, in accordance with the outline of the public process envisioned in earlier drafts of the PA. San Francisco’s Office of Economic Development, with the support of U.S. Senators Feinstein and Boxer and U.S. Representative Pelosi, hopes to secure Federal funds to assist in the redevelopment.

Old U.S. Mint, San Francisco, California



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




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 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. The building was transferred from the Treasury Department to GSA and was closed to the public in December 1994.

Closure of the building sparked significant public interest, and several public meetings regarding the potential for reuse have been held. 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 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 May 6, 2003

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