San Francisco Mint Raising Money

Washington – The Senate gave final congressional approval Friday to legislation authorizing the U.S. Mint to create and sell gold and silver commemorative coins that could raise an estimated $8.5 million to help transform San Francisco’s landmark Old Mint into a city history museum.

The House had passed the bill in November, and it now goes to President Bush for his signature. That will allow the Mint to start designing the collectors’ coins, which to the extent possible are supposed to be struck at San Francisco’s current mint off Upper Market Street. Others would be produced at the mint in West Point, N.Y.

The money generated through the coins’ sale will help raise the needed $55 million for seismic upgrades and remodeling to the Greek Revival-style “Granite Lady” at Fifth and Mission streets so it can reopen in 2009 as the new permanent home of the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society.

With the expected revenue from the coin sale, the society will have $36 million to $41 million in donations or commitments for the project, said interim executive director Erik Christoffersen. He said groundbreaking for the project is expected in late 2007 or early 2008.

Michael White, Mint spokesman in Washington, said it’s too early to say what design will be on the coins or when they will be available. He estimated, based on recent sales of other commemorative coins, that the 500,000 face-value $1 silver coins will sell for $30 to $35. The far higher price of the 100,000 gold coins with a $5 face value is harder to estimate because the Mint has not issued a similar commemorative gold coin for a few years, White said.

In the past several months, the price of gold has soared, trading Friday in the range of $650 an ounce.

“The minting and sale of these commemorative coins is a fitting way to raise much-needed funds for the restoration of the Old Mint,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said after the Senate passed the bill she co-sponsored with California’s other senator, Democrat Barbara Boxer. In the House, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco was a co-sponsor of the coin legislation.

The 70,000-square-foot Old Mint began operating in 1854, making coins from precious metal that was part of the California Gold Rush. It played a historic role in the 1906 earthquake and fire, as workers successfully fought to save the building and its load of gold and silver. At one time, the building’s vaults held one-third of the U.S. gold reserves.

Minting operations ceased in the building in 1937 and in following years the Mint operated it as a historical museum, known for its display of $1 million in gold, and a store. The building’s conditions deteriorated and it finally closed in 1994.

The city has a 66-year lease on the building with the federal government, and the city is negotiating with the museum on a long-term sub-lease. In addition to the history museum, plans call for a restaurant, a coin museum to be run by the American Numismatic Association and the San Francisco visitors’ center, which plans to move a block south from its current below-street level location at Powell and Market streets.

Working with the Martin Building Co., Christoffersen said plans also call for closing off the bit of Jessie Street behind the Old Mint and creating a pedestrian mall with greenery, live performances and “tasteful but limited” retail space.

(via San Francisco Chronicle)

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