San Francisco landmark: Coit Tower

Rising 210 feet from the top of Telegraph Hill is one of San Francisco’s best known landmarks – Coit Tower. From there, the bay and the city are laid out as if for your viewing pleasure. Lillie Hitchcock Coit provided the money for its construction when she died in 1929 by providing the city of San Francisco with a grant for civic beautification. The tower was proposed in 1931 and after winning a design competition, designed by Arthur Brown Jr. with the assistance of Henry Howard. It is an art deco tower built of reinforced concrete.

I think I would have liked Lillie. She smoked cigars and wore trousers long before that was deemed acceptable. She used to dress as a man so that she could gamble in men only establishments and she loved to help out the local fire brigade – becoming an honorary firefighter and the matron saint of San Francisco firefighters.

The tower was completed in 1933 and soon after, a Public Works of Art project commissioned a set of murals to decorate the lower area of the tower. Most of the painters were from the California School of Fine Arts. There is drama contained within the murals related to the destruction of a mural painted by Diego Rivera. This mural was called Man at Crossroads and was on the ground floor of the Rockefeller Center. It was destroyed because it contained the face of Lenin, but the San Francisco artists painted things into their areas to protest the action and many Coit murals contain a number of leftist ideas. Many of the murals show people at work in various industries that would have been in the area at that time.

Other murals exist in the spiral staircase but these are only open on Saturday mornings.

Next year it will celebrate its 80th birthday.

( Sent to me by Adam – My grandfather, Bernard Zakheim is one of the 25 artists there and his library scene includes his daughter, Ruth…my mother who was 12 in 1934. She is the little girl in the blue and white sailor suit. Today, she is 90 and still working. Her younger sister Masha Zakheim wrote the book. )

One amusing aspect is that in the plaza surrounding the tower, there are a number of coin operated binoculars. The problem is that the trees have grown up so much that I doubt anything would be visible through them.

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3 thoughts on “San Francisco landmark: Coit Tower

  • October 8, 2014 at 6:04 PM

    Are prints of the Coit Tower murals available for sale? Specifically I’m interested in City Life by Victor Arnautoff and also the one showing a sign: San Francisco-Oakland Ferry, in the foreground. Thanks, John Griffin, Alamo 94507

  • June 20, 2012 at 6:39 AM

    One correction: No murals by Diego Rivera at Coit Tower.

    • June 20, 2012 at 7:06 AM

      Thanks Adam. The text has been updated to reflect the information you provided.


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