Carl Nolte: San Francisco Plans Museum, Exhibits To Focus On People





These fall days mark the beginning of a major effort by the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society to transform the venerable Old Mint at Fifth and Mission streets into a museum to celebrate San Francisco.

Groundbreaking for the first phase of a seismic upgrading of the building is Oct. 7, but dreams and a grand vision for the future already swirl around the gray granite walls.

The society sees a museum that shows the essential story of the city itself, something none of the dozens of other San Francisco museums offers.

"There's no museum about San Francisco,'' said Gilbert Castle, executive director of the museum and historical society.

"San Francisco is the way it is today because of how it developed,'' said consulting curator Robert Macdonald. The new Museum of the City of San Francisco would be a guide to understanding the fabric of the city, he said -- "a place to begin one's knowledge of San Francisco.''

The museum would be contemporary, reflecting not only San Francisco's past, but its present diversity. "The people of San Francisco would come into this museum and see themselves in here,'' Macdonald said.

The cost: about $55 million to $60 million. Of that, Castle hopes to raise $15 million from foundations and individuals, $8.5 million from the sale of coins and other collectors items, and the rest, he said, from state and federal funds.

In the organization's vision statement, Castle calls the unborn museum a "center of learning and wonderment ... a gateway to our city for generations of San Franciscans and visitors."
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The museum's timetable is ambitious, too. By the winter of 2007 -- just over two years from now -- the society hopes to have a grand opening of the new museum.E-mail Carl Nolte at cnolte@sfchronicle.com.
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