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Freshly Minted
San Francisco Magazine, 12/05. By Martin Holden sf

San Francisco's graniose Old Mint is becoming an airy city museum.

PROJECT: The Museum of the City of San Francisco, in and around the Old Mint, at Fifth and Mission—not to be confused with the “new” Mint (1937) on Duboce at Market.

In addition to the museum, the Old Mint will house a restaurant and a sidewalk café, shops, a pedestrian mall on part of Jessie Street, and possibly a new San Francisco Visitors´ Center.

DESIGN: Perhaps the oldest monumental stone building in the city, the Old Mint (1874) was designed by Treasury Department architect Alfred B. Mullett in the Greek Revival style, relying on “ the magnitude and proportion of the building,” he wrote, “for its achitectural effect.” The simple facade, dominated by a large entrance portico and capped by a pediment, has stood the test of time (indeed, the Old Mint is a National Historic Landmark). The new museum won´t mess with those proportions. Architects Dana Merker and Robert Bradsby of the San Francisco firm Patri-Merker, in collaboration with Barry Howard Limited, designed a glass gallery with a transparent ceiling that gracefully occupies the Mint´s interior courtyard, barely touching the original structure. The new access bridges, stairs, and elevators are also modern and transparent in materials and design. “We were looking to create a system that is as light as possible, both visually and physically,” says Bradsby, adding that contrast sets up an interesting dynamic between the old and the new.

VERDICT: The Old Mint survived earthquake, fire, and a host of redevelopment schemes to stand as one of the last relics of old S.F. in SoMa. The Mint project will provide a needed anchor to the up-and-coming Fifth Street corridor, between Bloomingdale´s and a 32-story InterContinental Hotel (also designed by Patri-Merker). Though plans to turn part of Jessie Street into “Gold Rush Alley” raise the specter of a Fisherman´s Wharf South, it´s nice to see something with a little heart preserved in a part of the city being reinvented moment by moment.

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