Coit Tower
Coit Tower was built in Pioneer Park atop Telegraph Hill in 1933 at the bequest of Lillie Hitchcock Coit to beautify the City of San Francisco; Lillie bequeathed one-third of her estate to the City of San Francisco "to be expended in an appropriate manner for the purpose of adding to the beauty of the city which I have always loved". Contrary to popular opinion, the tower was not designed to resemble a fire hose nozzle. This belief persists in part because of Lillie Hitchcock Coit's affinity with the San Francisco fire fighters of the day, in particular with Knickerbocker Engine Company Number 5. Although the architects claimed to have no design precedent in mind, during this time Europe saw the construction of aesthetically designed power stations that could be claimed as prototypes (e.g.: Battersea Power Station). The art deco tower, 210 feet (64 m) of unpainted reinforced concrete, was designed by architects Arthur Brown, Jr. and Henry Howard with murals by 26 different artists and numerous assistants.

The Coit Tower murals were carried out under the auspices of the Public Works of Art Project, the first of the New Deal federal employment programs for artists. Ralph Stackpole and Bernard Zakheim successfully sought the commission in 1933, and supervised the muralists, who were mainly faculty and student of the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA), including Maxine Albro, Victor Arnautoff, Ray Bertrand, Rinaldo Cuneo, Mallette Harold Dean, Clifford Wight, Edith Hamlin, George Harris, Robert B. Howard, Otis Oldfield, Suzanne Scheuer, Hebe Daum and Frede Vidar. After Diego Rivera's Man at the Crossroads mural was destroyed by its Rockefeller Center patrons for the inclusion of an image of Lenin, the Coit Tower muralists protested, picketing the tower. Sympathy for Rivera led some artists to incorporate leftist ideas and composition elements in their works. Bernard Zakheim's "Library" depicts fellow artist John Langley Howard crumpling a newspaper in his left hand as he reaches for a shelved copy of Karl Marx's Das Kapital with his right, and Stackpole is painted reading a newspaper headline announcing the destruction of Rivera's mural; Victor Arnautoff's "City Life" includes the The New Masses and The Daily Worker periodicals in the scene's news stand rack; John Langley Howard's mural depicts an ethnically diverse Labor March as well as showing a destitute family panning for gold while a rich family observes; and Stackpole's Industries of California was composed along the same lines as an early study of the destroyed Man at the Crossroads. Two of the murals are of San Francisco Bay scenes. Most murals are done in fresco; the exceptions are one mural done in egg tempera (upstairs, in the last decorated room) and the works done in the elevator foyer, which are oil on canvas. While most of the murals have been restored, a small segment (the spiral stairway exit to the observation platform) was not restored but durably painted over with epoxy surfacing. Most of the murals are open for public viewing without charge during open hours, although there are ongoing negotiations by the Recreation and Parks Department of San Francisco to begin charging visitors a fee to enter the mural rotunda. The murals in the spiral stairway, normally closed to the public, are open for viewing on Saturday mornings at 11:00 am with a free San Francisco City Guides tour.

The view
The tower, which stands atop Telegraph Hill in San Francisco's Pioneer Park, offers fantastic views of San Francisco including the Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park ("Aquatic Park"), Alcatraz, Pier 39, Angel Island, Treasure Island, the Bay Bridge, Russian Hill, the Financial District, Lombard Street, and Nob Hill. Coit Tower took 5 years to build.

Telegraph Hill

Getting to Coit Tower
Due to the extreme topography, the parking lot at the top of the hill is only accessible by one road, Telegraph Hill Boulevard via Lombard Street. Because Coit Tower is such a popular tourist attraction, at peak times, the street can be backed up and the wait for parking to open up can be long. The alternatives to driving and parking are to come by bus or to walk. It is a short bus ride to Coit Tower from the Fisherman's Wharf area or from Washington Square in North Beach on the #39 bus which leaves every 20 minutes. A system of wooden and concrete stairs and footpaths, called the Filbert Steps, lead to the top of the hill from various directions, making a steep but direct climb possible. Telegraph Hill Boulevard connects with Lombard Street, another popular tourist attraction.

  • In the book trilogy Nine Lives Of Chloe King by Celia Thomson, the protagonist Chloe King loses one of her nine lives by falling from Coit Tower.
  • In the books Signal to Noise and A Signal Shattered by Eric Nylund, the tower is saved from numerous disasters and becomes a metaphor for the protagonist's determination to survive.
  • In the book On The Road by beat writer Jack Kerouac, the Coit Tower is one of the symbols of San Francisco : "That was Frisco; and beautiful women standing in white doorways, waiting for their men; Coit Tower and the Embarcadero, and Market Street, and the eleven teeming hills."
  • Another beat writer, the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, makes reference to the "Coit's Tower" in his poem "Dog".
  • In the 1998 movie Dr. Dolittle , Eddie Murphy tries to coax a sick, suicidal tiger from jumping off of the tower.
  • In the Dirty Harry movie The Enforcer, Kate Moore calls the tower " coitus interruptus", claiming it looked "vaguely phallic".
  • In A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore, the phallic appearance of the tower as well as its origins are mentioned.
  • In the film Vertigo Coit Tower appears in many background shots; the film's director, Alfred Hitchcock said he used it as a phallic symbol. The tower is also explicitly mentioned in the dialogue as a recognizable landmark: "That's the first time I've been grateful for Coit Tower."
  • Bill O'Reilly, on The O'Reilly Factor , caused controversy when he made the following comments to the people on San Francisco: "Listen, citizens of San Francisco, if you vote against military recruiting, you're not going to get another nickel in federal funds. Fine. You want to be your own country? Go right ahead. And if Al Qaeda comes in here and blows you up, we're not going to do anything about it. We're going to say, look, every other place in America is off limits to you, except San Francisco. You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead." (Media Matters)
  • In Mario Is Missing SNES version, it is a question asked by someone that works on the Coit Tower after some Koopa Troopa stole an art effect.

Photo gallery

Tower and related sites
Coit Tower San Francisco: Its History and Art, by Masha Zakheim (daughter of Bernard Zakheim and Coit Tower docent, ret.) published by Volcano Press ~ Ordering information:

The murals

Building Activity

  • Pleco18
    Pleco18 uploaded 3 media
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  • Mike Cohn
    Mike Cohn commented
    Designed to look like a fire hose nozzle, wikipedia does this building justice...
    about 5 years ago via Mobile
  • updated a digital reference
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