Last Friday, an 18,000 square foot section of pavement was reclaimed for pedestrians, with the official opening of Mint Plaza, on Fifth Street between Market and Mission. The plaza occupies a former section of Jessie Street, right next to the Old Mint building. By 2011, this 1874 Alfred Mullett structure will house the Museum of San Francisco and the Bay Area, the American Money Museum, and the San Francisco Visitor’s Information Center (currently in Hallidie Plaza). Historically speaking, the Mint is one of the Bay Area’s most important buildings, at one point holding one-third of the gold reserves in the United States. The “Granite Lady”, as the building is fondly known, also managed to survive the 1906 earthquake and fire, when so little else did. The building has witnessed most of San Francisco’s history, sometimes actively and other times passively, but appropriately, when the Mint reopens, its museum will tell the story of this building and of the city that was born, destroyed, and born once again under its watch.
Although South of Market has more than its fair share of regional landmarks, this section of the city noticeably lacks public open space that interacts and synergizes with the life of the street. In that sense, the new Mint Plaza will be a welcome addition. The stark, simple design suggests that the plaza will not attract visitors of its own accord:
Rather, the vitality of this public space will depend on a critical mass of activity generated by the uses surrounding it. For the time being, that activity will largely be generated by Westfield shoppers, people who work in the area, and patrons of the commercial space ringing the plaza, once those storefronts are filled. However, Mint Plaza’s success will not truly be tested until the Mint building officially opens in 2011. By then, it will hopefully be a pleasant place to linger and enjoy one of San Francisco’s foremost civic spaces.
Rendering courtesy The Mint Project.