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The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 14, April 5, 2009, Article 22

OLD SAN FRANCISCO MINT BUILDING OPENS FOR ART SHOW

I haven't heard much lately about the old U.S. Mint building in San Francisco. This article notes that the building will temporarily be open for visitors to an art installation. -Editor
Old San Francisco Mint art show The public will get a rare chance to take a look inside San Francisco's venerable Old U.S. Mint this weekend, when the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society hosts an art show called "Faces of the City" from today to Tuesday.

The show, by artist Elaine Badgley Arnoux, includes portraits of 140 San Franciscans, from senators, mayors and big time civic leaders to Muni operators and garbage collectors.

In the Mint's grand corner office, complete with gilded chandeliers and an ornate fireplace, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's portrait shares space with Frank Comelia, a commercial fisherman, and Carl Payne, a police officer who was once the city's premier cable car gripman.

The Old Mint has always fascinated her. "I wanted to get into the Old Mint before I die, '' she said. Actually, the Old Mint, which has graced the corner of Fifth and Mission streets for 135 years, is the star of its own show. It was built to handle the incredible silver output from the Comstock lode in Virginia City, Nev. and for many years was the largest federal building west of the Mississippi.

Later its vaults held up to one-third of the entire gold supply of the U.S. treasury - worth $6 billion in today's currency.

The building, which is built of granite and sandstone, was the largest structure to withstand the 1906 earthquake and fire. It continued as a mint until 1937, stood empty for some years, reopened as a coin museum, and closed again in 1994.

The federal government gave the Old Mint to the city of San Francisco for $1 and the city in turn handed it over to the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, which plans to turn it into a museum of San Francisco history.

In the meantime, the Old Mint, with its spooky basement vaults lined with steel, its grand Victorian offices with 20-foot high ceilings, walls three feet thick, fireplaces and gilt chandeliers, has been closed to the public.

The Old Mint is open only for private parties; the last time the public was allowed inside was for an art show five years ago.

The historical society says it will cost $95 million to make the building seismically safe and upgrade it to a museum.

So far, about a third of the money has been raised though federal grants and tax write-offs. The rest - about $60 million - is needed to make the Old Mint into a museum and visitor center, which historical society Executive Director Erik Christoffersen calls "a window into the men and women who made this city and this region."

If you go: The art show Faces of the City will be on display at the Old U.S. Mint from noon to 5 p.m. today through Tuesday. Admission is $10.

For information, call the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society at (415) 537-1105, ext. 100, or go to www.sfhistory.org.

To read the complete article, see: Art show opens S.F.'s Old U.S. Mint to public (www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/04/02/BAKG16QCKN.DTL)

It's a rare treat to be able to set foot in The Granite Lady these days, so E-Sylum readers living in the area are encourages to take advantage of the opportunity. -Editor




Wayne Homren, Editor

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