Something terrible is happening in one of San Francisco’s oldest and most respected historic buildings. But it’s all going according to the script.
From October 10 through November 3, the San Francisco Mint, which is a registered national historic landmark, hosts “Terror Vault,” a haunted attraction cooked up by local drag purveyor of schlock cinema and irreverence, Peaches Christ.
“I wanted a proper haunted house, but with more theater,” Peaches told Curbed SF in a mid-vault interview about the genesis of the project, a first for her new three-person production partnership.
“Terror Vault” features most of the usual fare that makes haunted attractions attractive—e.g., creepy locale, lurid costumery, and a completely depraved sense of humor—but attempts to build a more elaborate atmosphere with scripted performance and ambitious production design.
Peaches scored the plum Mint locale through a partnership with the venue firm Non-Plus Ultra [NPU], which matches spaces like the Palace of Fine Arts and, previously, Pier 70, with new live events.
“I ask, why are we driving by these buildings that are vacant every day [in San Francisco],” NPU partner Ryan Melchiano told Curbed SF, pointing out that SF has a passel of cool buildings that most of us rarely get to enjoy.
Case in point, the Mint closed its doors in 1994. The city bought the building in 2003, but except for temporary events, it has remained mostly derelict. It even made it onto the National Trust for Historic Preservation most historic endangered places list several times.
Of course, being abandoned for nearly 25 years comes with an accidental consolation prize: The Granite Lady is spooky as hell these days.
Actor Roxanne Redmeat says that auditioning for the show meant “being asked to wait in a vault with creepy music and a dummy,” a disquieting enough experience to make her speculate whether or not this was a test of nerves as part of the audition.
“We wanted it to be site-specific,” says Peaches. “So the show should take place in the Mint.”
Rather than haunt everyone with the ghosts of dead federal employees, “Terror Vault” imagines an alternate history for the building in which it served as a secret prison for San Francisco’s most depraved criminals after the 1906 earthquake.
The full production features mad scientists, ghost clowns, Satanic nuns, a Victorian house and garden that manifest mysteriously in the lower depths of the Mint building.
There’s also something called a “claustrophobia tunnel”—anyone with a phobia of rats should note that handling faux rodents is critical to the audience experience.
The set design disguises the Mint effectively while also showing off its existing ominous architecture. The full show features some 40 live actors (including Peaches hamming it up as a cult leader), and half a dozen fairly lengthy audience-interactive set pieces.
Co-producer David Flower tells Curbed SF that the haunt had the opportunity to use the entire building but that this would have been too ambitious, and that in all “Terror Vault” takes up about a quarter of the Mint space.
Most of the action takes place in an area behind the vaults, which are made up of long, furtive brick corridors.
The top floor will feature a second, smaller haunt referred to as “zombie tag,” which the producers say will be more kid-friendly.
Note that despite its long history, grave architecture, and decades of nominal disuse, the Mint is actually one of the few prominent San Francisco buildings not rumored to be haunted over the years.
But there’s always time for a storied building to add a few ghost stories to its portfolio.