The History of the Old San Francisco Mint – People, Politics and Projects – How to Make a Mint and How the Supervising Architect of the Treasury Inadvertently Helped Facilitate the Creation the American Institute of Architects ©
Take a nostalgic journey back to the Gold Rush era as this presentation explores the Old San Francisco Mint's illustrious history and how Alfred B. Mullett, who served from 1866 to 1874 as Supervising Architect and head of the U.S. Treasury Department, inadvertently helped facilitate the creation of the American Institute of Architects.
In 1848 gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in California; on September 9, 1850 California became the 31st state of the Union; and in 1852 the United States Treasury Department established the position of Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department to design and oversee the construction of Federal Courthouses, Post Offices, Custom Houses, Mints, Treasury Offices and other Federal government facilities. In April 1861 the American Civil War began that divided the country for over four years. Although far removed from the eastern battlefields, California sided with the Union, and the gold and silver mined and processed in California became crucial to providing one of the financial resources to fund the Union government.
During the waning months of the Civil War, in January 1865, Alfred Bult Mullett, Assistant Supervising Architect of the United States Treasury Department, was sent by the Secretary of the Treasury, Hugh McCullough, to San Francisco. He was tasked with selecting a site and commencing the design of a new branch mint to replace an aging branch mint, built in 1854, that had become antiquated and suffered from years of continuous industrial vibrations and use of caustic chemicals and was increasingly overwhelmed by the volume of gold and silver ore being brought to the city by miners from the Sierra Nevada.
As the year progressed it would prove a momentous year: The 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, would be assassinated in April and American Civil War would finally end in May and the country would begin to rebuild and expand westwards with renewed vigor as the many veterans sought new opportunities.
In order to fulfill his objective for establishing a new branch Mint in San Francisco, Alfred Mullett would need to consult Federal, State, County and City government officials, engineers, contractors and materials suppliers as well as bankers and businessmen to gather the information needed for the project. This new building’s functions included receiving and assaying gold and silver ore as well as processing them into pure metals and manufacturing ingots and coins. It would be a state of the art facility, using the latest steam powered equipment, chemical refining processes and other technologies. It would also need to be a self-sufficient building, capable of generating its own mechanical power from coal generated steam and supplying its own water from an artesian well and cistern. It would need to be able to endure the daily extreme heat of the forges and annealing ovens, the caustic chemicals used to process the ore and continuous vibrations from the belt driven mechanical equipment. It would need to be a secure repository for vast quantities of gold and silver bars and coin comprising a large part of the nation’s wealth. And it had to be able to resist fires and earthquakes.
It was the responsibility of the Supervising Architect to fulfill most of the building design and construction needs of Federal Government facilities for a growing nation. The role of the Supervising Architect grew to be one that exerted a powerful influence, overseeing the expenditure of millions of dollars of Federal funds with a near monopoly on public architecture which lasted for several decades.
About the Presenter
Robert F. Bailey
Robert Bailey is a Civil Engineer who grew up in Northern California and has lived in San Francisco for the last 30 years. As a 5th generation Californian, he has several ancestral connections to San Francisco that date back to the mid 1850’s. He graduated from UC Berkeley with a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering in 1984 and a Master’s degree in Structural Engineering and Structural Mechanics in 1985. Upon graduation he spent 2-1/2 years in the Peace Corps working in Nepal designing and building rural suspension bridges. After completing his Peace Corp service, he traveled extensively throughout Asia further deepening his appreciation for the varied cultures, art and architecture. Upon returning home he settled in San Francisco in early 1988 and began the next phase of his engineering career at the structural engineering firm Forell/Elsesser. A few months prior to the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, he was assigned to a 2-person team performing a seismic evaluation of the Old San Francisco Mint for the General Services Administration. This first introduction to the Mint would lead to long term relationship with the building. Later he would learn that some of his Irish ancestors lived next to the Mint before, during and after its construction. Over the ensuing years there were repeated occasions to learn more about the building as additional studies were undertaken. During this decade of his career, he worked on several significant seismic evaluation and upgrade projects including multiple US Embassy buildings in Europe, Asia, Central America, South America and most significantly the San Francisco City Hall seismic evaluation and retrofit. He was a member of the engineering team involved with the initial evaluation phase precipitated by the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake and remained involved in the City Hall design, construction and retrofit for the following ten years. In early 1999 he established his sole proprietor consulting engineer practice in San Francisco. During the past 20 years he was actively involved with many design projects for new buildings such as the new San Francisco General Hospital and the first Apple Retail Store at Stockton and Ellis Streets. He also provided the engineering for several historic preservation projects involving several important San Francisco buildings, monuments and art installations including: Lotta’s Fountain, The Buddha Sculpture in the Japanese Tea Garden, the Fountain of the Tortoises in Huntington Park and the Garfield Monument and Pioneer Mother Monument in Golden Gate Park. He retired from his full time consulting practice in the fall of 2018.
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