U.S. Mint Buldings Introductions

“Distributed from Washington, D.C., as neat, detailed drawings on oiled linen, these buildings rose in brick or stone and announced the federal government, often in far-flung places. They were likely to be the best buildings in town. For the strength of their presence today, many are the objects of historic preservation.”
–Antoinette Lee, "Architects to the Nation"
Alfred B. Mullett, Supervising Architect. (National Archives)
In referring to the designs of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury from the mid-nineteenth century through the interwar years of the twentieth, Antoinette Lee suggests in her book Architects to the Nation a central theme in federal government architecture: these buildings, whether they are courthouses, post offices, or custom houses, have often been architectural focal points in their communities. The U.S. Mint buildings are no exception.
Like the Treasury Building, which clearly served as a model for many buildings designed by the Supervising Architect’s Office, the mint buildings originally housed several functions ranging from the industrial to the clerical. These functions demanded varying spaces and architectural treatments, but they were always unified by their role as a representative institution of the federal government. This dichotomy of manufacturing facility and public institution is an important means by which to understand the buildings. The best tools for uncovering the original intent of the architect are primarily architectural drawings, the Supervising Architect’s annual reports, and other primary sources such as personal letters and newspaper articles. These types of documents offer researchers a first-hand account of the past: they demonstrate the demands of a program that had to accommodate disparate functions; tell us details about construction, costs, and workmanship; and provide insight into the factors that influenced their forms.
William Marin Aiken, Supervising Architect. (National Archives)

After their tenure as mints ended the buildings underwent major changes, variously functioning as offices, museum venues, or warehouses. With formal landmark status—after sometimes impassioned preservation battles due to their importance to the identity of the community—the public and the architectural professions have gained a new appreciation for the buildings. Today, the mint buildings serve as reminders of their respective community’s past and its place in the nation’s financial and architectural history. From these buildings we can understand the architectural culture of their period in greater depth, while their transformations over time ask us to consider why and how these buildings have changed and the special challenges this building type poses to preservation.

William Martin Aiken, Supervising Architect. (National Archives)
  • The mints are symbols of the federal government’s presence in cities across the country; therefore, ways in which to retain or contrast their old symbolism with new demands become a prominent challenge. Because architects and critics today often put a premium on new and unconventional approaches to design and reject traditional ones, the resolution of issues regarding the intersection of old and new and of public legibility are paramount concerns.
  • Because they originally combined industrial and ceremonial/public spaces—the latter generally much more elaborate and finely decorated than the former—the integration of both types of rooms with new uses poses a challenge to reuse.
  • Retaining public accessibility while encouraging uses that can be profitable and relevant to the community has been a concern with each building.

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Last Updated: 11/30/2010 1:20 PM