Daily Archives: January 26, 2011

Coit Tower

High above the city, on the eastern side of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, you will see Coit Tower. It is just one of the many landmarks of this great city.

I visited Coit Tower in May 2009.  The best way to get to it, though, was walking, no climbing, the steepest hill in San Francisco, but the views once you get to the tower were amazing;  a 360 degree view of San Francisco.  The day I went, however, the elevator inside the tower that takes you up to its very top, was broken.

Coit Tower

The following information was taken from San Francisco Travel where you can read more about Coit Tower, as well as the many other attractions/landmarks in San Francisco:

History of Coit Tower

Coit Tower Construction and Lillie Hitchcock Coit

Coit Tower was constructed in 1933 at the request of Lillie Hitchcock Coit for whom the tower was named. Coit was one of those eccentric characters that dot the history of San Francisco and make it the interesting city that it has always been. She was a gender-bending rough-and-tumble type of woman who smoked cigars, gambled avidly and lived raucously. The fact that she came from money and married into more of it helped make her behavior more acceptable to others.

What Lille Hitchcock Coit was best known for in her day, however, was not her wild antics. Instead, it was her obsession with firefighting due surely to the fact that she herself was rescued from a severe fire when she was just a child. She grew up to become a volunteer firefighter who rode along with the firemen to all of the fires in town beginning at the age of 15 when she was dubbed the mascot for Knickerbocker Engine Co. No. 5. In those days, fires broke out frequently due to the materials used to construct buildings at the time. Lillian Hitchcock Coit was frequently found helping put out those fires.

Coit died in 1929 but she had money to her name. She used that money to commission Coit Tower, which was built in honor of the firefighters that she so adored. In addition to honoring the firefighers, Lillie Hitchcock Coit wanted the area to serve as a beautiful spot for viewing the city that she so loved.

Art and Architecture of Coit Tower

The architecture of Coit Tower seems fairly simple (and is said to represent the nozzle of a fire hose although the rumor that this was intentional has been denied). When you enter the building, however, you will see a beautiful set of murals that explore and explain the history of the area. These murals were part of the Public Works of Art project that provided jobs to artists after the Great Depression. Many examples of public artwork from this era can be seen throughout San Francisco but the collection of murals at Coit Tower just might be the best sample of this work.

You can walk around the lower level of Coit Tower and view most of these murals at no charge. Looking at them, you will see many little slices of history. The many scenes throughout the building depict the lives of average people in the San Francisco Bay Area at this time. For example, you will see a poor family panning for gold while a richer family watches, a Labor March, farmers in fruit fields and every day tragedies like a car accident and a robbery.

In addition to the murals that you can see as a daily visitor, there is a set of murals in the stairway of the tower that are generally not available to be seen by the public. However, tours are given that describe the Coit Tower murals in more depth and some of these tours are allowed access to the stairway murals. Free tours provided by San Francisco City Guides are one example.

Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

Coit Tower might be the highlight of Telegraph Hill but while you’re there you won’t want to miss out on another great piece of the hill’s history. They’re the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill. No one is quite sure how this flock of feral parrots ended up in the area but they’ve been there for years and you can count on them being there most days that you might visit. They hang out in the trees near Coit Tower. They’ve been the subject of a book as well as a documentary and have come to have their role in the local legends of the area. They have also played a bit part in local politics after a 2007 ban prohibiting feeding them in public was found to be highly controversial. The ban stands so don’t plan to feed them if you see them but do take the time to look out for them as they are beautiful birds. Their loud voices and eccentric determination to thrive in a place where they don’t necessarily belong might even remind you a little bit of Ms. Lillie Hitchcock Coit!

I edited my photo to Sepia as part of the Scepia Scenes weekly Wednesday meme….check out other sepia photos here.