Posts Tagged ‘coit tower’

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Salesforce Tower Tour

September 30th, 2019

Salesforce Tower Tour
 

I got to see the city from a new perspective yesterday thanks to the free Salesforce Tower Tour. Tickets for this are rarely available and are snapped up quickly — somehow I was able to snag one back in June.

The line to enter the tour is on the small plaza at Mission and Fremont, which is also an entrance to the Salesforce Transit Center next door and the location of the gondola ride to Salesforce Park.

I should point out that despite the names, neither of these two buildings — nor the park — are owned by Salesforce; they just paid for the naming rights.

 
Salesforce Tower Tour Salesforce Tower Tour
 

There’s a dedicated lobby area for the tour where Salesforce’s “National Park” aesthetic begins complete with astroturf throw rugs, curved LED screens, a plastic bear, and “trees” disguising the building’s outer columns. This theme contrasts strangely when placed in the almost comically bland Salesforce Tower. Oh and there’s also a completely deserted gift shop for some unknown reason. As Yoda might say, “Disneyland, this is not.”

After checking in with my ID I got a plastic wristband disguised to look like a blade of grass, as well as a Salesforce sticker I put on my hoodie. I was also handed a map and a pamphlet and was told this was a self-guided tour, or to put it another way not really a “tour” at all. But that’s fine, it’s really all about the view.

From there we went through metal detectors and a bag check. I had to place my keys and phone in a bowl, but kept my belt on without setting off the metal detector. I was also allowed to bring the small water bottle I’d brought with me, although this turned out to be unnecessary as complimentary water was available.

 
Salesforce Tower Tour
 

From there we were directed by staff over to a row of elevators in the center of the building. The photo above is looking toward Mission Street at a roped-off bank of elevators. Presumably those were for workers if they had to come in on the weekend.

The elevators for the tour were preprogrammed to whisk us to the top of the building, the Ohana Floor. It’s a pretty quick ride and while my ears popped going up, it’s worth pointing out that the building isn’t really as tall as it looks. Not including the building’s “hat,” it’s only 61 stories tall. While that’s tall by San Francisco standards, it’s nowhere near the height of the world’s tallest skyscrapers.

 
Salesforce Tower Tour
Salesforce Tower Tour Salesforce Tower Tour
 

Before getting into the views, I should point out what’s on the Ohana Floor. It’s intended to be a space for nonprofits to use as part of Salesforce’s philanthropy efforts. As such there’s plenty of seating, living plants all over the place, a conference room, restrooms, and even a full service restaurant.

Unfortunately the restaurant was not open, which seemed like a missed opportunity. People will pay a lot of money for cocktails or a weekend brunch with a nice view. You don’t have to take my word for it, that’s been the business model of Top of the Mark since the late 1930’s.

I don’t mean to look a gift horse in the mouth here, I’m glad there’s an opportunity to see the space for free. All I’m saying is this seems like an untapped source of revenue — some of which could be used to benefit the nonprofits hosted by Salesforce.

The last feature I want to point out here are the skylights. These round windows peer up into the building’s “hat” known for displaying videos at night. During the day these provide natural light, but also raise the question of what it looks like on the Ohana Floor after dark.

All that aside let’s get into some of the views.

 
Salesforce Tower Tour
 

Looking south, we see the city split by a freeway that unfortunately runs through it. Near the bottom center is the gray windowless AT&T building that serves as a giant internet hub, where a whistle-blower reported mass surveillance by the NSA years before it was confirmed by Edward Snowden.

I briefly worked at the building across the street, 303 2nd Street, which features a grassy terrace and series of fountains that make for a hotspot for outdoor lunches. Moving diagonally up 2nd Street you can see the Clocktower Building as well as the ballpark.

 
Salesforce Tower Tour
 

Looking south-ish we can see the bay in the distance with numerous cargo ships in the background. The tall building in the back center is One Rincon Hill, which for many years stood as the tallest tower in SOMA.

Recently a number of other towers have popped up, which mostly either mimic the circular tower of One Rincon Hill, have taken on a reflective mirror coating to blend in, or have some combination of the two.

 
Salesforce Tower Tour
 

Looking east we have a nice view of the Bay Bridge leading to Alameda County in the background. Sailboats dot the bay with Yerba Buena Island and its man-made neighbor Treasure Island in the center.

The three piers jutting out into the bay from left to right are two SF Bay Ferry terminals at the Ferry Building, followed by the public Pier 14.

If you noticed the shadow at the bottom left that was cast by Salesforce Tower itself.

 
Salesforce Tower Tour
 

Going north we can see some of the most iconic elements of the San Francisco skyline. From left to right there’s the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bank of America Building, the extremely pointy Transamerica Pyramid, and Coit Tower and Alcatraz.

Next to the Bank of America Building the creepy Corporate Goddesses are visible. That’s the building where the Jejune Institute was located.

 
Salesforce Tower Tour
 

Turning further to the west it looks like chaos in the foreground, with buildings built along different street grids rather than facing each other.

Although outside city planners came up with complete redesigns of the street grid after San Francisco was leveled in 1906, those plans were rejected and the city was rebuilt along the same awkward street layout.

 
Salesforce Tower Tour
 

Lastly here’s a view to the west with Sutro Tower in the distance. Mission Street is prominently visible running down the center.

This seems like a good as point as any to point out that the windows of Salesforce Tower were a little grimy during my visit, not that I’m volunteering to go outside and clean them. But the dirt is visible in some of these photos, particularly on the west side where the sun was shining toward the windows.
 

My recommendation: Definitely try to sign up for a ticket if you’re interested, this is a one-of-a-kind way to view the city. Your ID is essentially your ticket, so they are non-transferable (in other words, don’t try buying them from scalpers.) Do be aware the tower is tall enough it’s often engulfed in fog, and there’s no way to predict if that will be the case months in advance.

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The murals inside Coit Tower’s first and second floors

August 14th, 2019

Coit Tower Murals
Coit Tower Murals Coit Tower Murals
Coit Tower Murals Coit Tower Murals
First floor murals
 

A couple years ago I visited the top of Coit Tower for the first time. In that blog post I noted:

I should point out there is a second activity at Coit Tower that isn’t as well advertised, and I have yet to try it myself: in addition to the Depression era murals in the lobby, there’s a small second floor above it with more murals.

On Saturday I finally went to tour the murals with the free City Guides Coit Tower Murals Tour. Here’s what I learned on the tour.

The lobby space was built without any particular purpose, but two local artists were able to secure funding from a New Deal program to hire muralists to paint the walls with frescoes. The left-leaning artists settled on the Social Realism style which was popular at the time, though not without some controversy.

As you can see from the photos at the top of this post, the themes of these murals focus on labor and daily life, as you’d expect for an art style closely associated with socialism.

Due to tourists slowly filling up the lobby (August is peak tourism season, after all) I wasn’t able to get as many photos as I would have liked. A particular mural depicts a scene at a library where most people are reading newspapers with headlines contemporary for the day, but is mostly known for prominently featuring a man in the front pulling a copy of Das Kapital off a library shelf. One group after another came in and snapped selfies of themselves in front of it.

It’s worth pointing out that the ethnicity of the people in the murals is skewed to the point of historical revisionism. The absence of Chinese Americans and Latin Americans is especially jarring.

 
What’s on the second floor?
 

Coit Tower’s second floor is densely covered in murals but was typically off limits to the public until their 2014 restoration. What’s up there? Let’s take a look.

 
Coit Tower Murals, 2nd floor
Coit Tower Murals, 2nd floor Coit Tower Murals, 2nd floor
 

After going through a “secret” door, a spiral staircase features murals on both walls depicting life along Powell Street. Although these murals are approaching 90 years old it’s amazing how little has changed, fashion choices aside. People are carrying suitcases and walking their dogs, and the cable cars and oversized fire hydrants look identical to what you’ll see today.

Here’s another view from the second floor down the spiral staircase:

 
Coit Tower Murals, 2nd floor
 

Compared to the murals downstairs, this street life scene appears to represent a transition of sorts. Instead of farmers and factory workers we see mostly well-dressed and presumably wealthier people. The workers are few and far between, many of whom are police officers.

This transition becomes more obvious when exiting the staircase to the second floor landing.

 
Coit Tower Murals, 2nd floor
Coit Tower Murals, 2nd floor Coit Tower Murals, 2nd floor
 

Just above the stairs is a small landing with a series of sports murals. At first it seems like it could be Olympic games, but if you turn around and look at the wall over the staircase, it’s clearly a Cal-Stanford football game. So I think it’s safe to assume this mural is about local college sports.

 
Coit Tower Murals, 2nd floor
Coit Tower Murals, 2nd floor Coit Tower Murals, 2nd floor
 

From there the hallway wraps around in a semi-circle, with murals on either side depicting outdoor leisure activities: hunting, picnicking, and relaxing in the sun around a creek. One man even has a large film camera with him.

 
Coit Tower Murals, 2nd floor
 

In the last room on the second floor there’s a much more abstract mural depicting a wealthy home, perhaps preparing a dinner party. This is the only painting that’s not a fresco, instead opting for tempera paint. The bright orange background color looks like a sunset, almost glowing.

This last mural also completes the transition on the second floor, depicting an increasingly wealthy life with disposable income. This family clearly doesn’t need to pick oranges at an orchard or work in a factory to make ends meet.
 

The second floor murals left me with a nagging question: who was supposed to see these murals? Unlike the first floor, Coit Tower’s second floor is so narrow there’s not much room for people to move around. Today it’s limited to about six people at a time.

As far as I’m aware the space has largely been used as an access to a back room for administrative purposes over the years, yet if it was intended to be opened to the masses the hallways are too narrow for murals. And if it wasn’t intended for the public, why have murals at all?

The guide did not have any answer to this one. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d bet the unused balcony over the entrance to the tower — accessible by the second floor — was originally intended for some sort of public use. Like the rest of the second floor, this balcony is not used much today either. It all raises more questions than answers.

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Visiting the top of Coit Tower

June 11th, 2017

Coit Tower
 

Despite living in San Francisco for (checks watch) almost 14 years now — and the Bay Area my entire life — somehow I’d never bothered to take the elevator to the top of Coit Tower… until yesterday.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve climbed up Telegraph Hill more times than I can remember. I’ve walked up and down the staircases of both the Greenwich Steps and the Filbert Steps, as well as semi-staircase sidewalk along Filbert Street from Washington Square on the western side of the hill.

But Coit Tower itself? Sure I’ve gone in and looked at the murals, but as for the trip up to the top I was always turned off by the price and the long lines.

Well, it turns out you can take the elevator ride to the top either for free, or without waiting in line — but not both. How? Let me explain.

If you’re not interested in paying, all you have to do is sign up for a library card at any SF Public Library location. Once you’ve done that (or renewed your card if it’s expired) visit the Discover & Go website and log in with your library card and PIN. From there you can get free access to various local museums, pools, etc. Select the Coit Tower option, which includes “Free admission for up to two adults accompanied by up to four children under 18.”

Or if like me, you’re more turned off by the lines than the price, book a reservation with a skip the line ticket at least one day in advance. In addition to a $2 advance booking fee fee, adults pay $9.00 but residents of SF with a valid ID only pay $6.50. Seniors and children get a discount as well regardless of residence status. (All prices are as of this writing in 2017.)

In my case the employees seemed a little confused by the skip the line ticket, but accommodated me nonetheless. If there’s a line at the front door, just present the printed pass and they’ll wave you through to the gift shop. From there, the cashier took my pass, gave me a hand stamp and a receipt, then told me to go back to the elevator and wait for the next group.

Once the elevator operator has taken you to 15 or so stories up you’re actually not at the top — you’re at a lower observation platform for people with disabilities. Assuming you’re able there’s still two flights of stairs to climb.

 
Coit Tower
 

The top of the tower looks pretty much like what you’d expect from the ground — it’s an open air viewing area with sets of three windows on each side. That said, to my surprise, many of the windows were open. Visitors were sticking their cameras out of them to take photos. I wonder how many people have accidentally dropped their cameras?

From these windows, weather permitting there’s an amazing view of North Beach, the bay, and downtown. Click the photos in the gallery below for a full view.

 
Coit Tower Coit Tower Coit Tower Coit Tower Coit Tower Coit Tower
 

Despite being an iconic tourist attraction, I was surprised by how non-touristy it felt at the top. The atmosphere was relaxed, the elevator operator was very chill, and the only crowd was the line in the lobby.

I should point out there is a second activity at Coit Tower that isn’t as well advertised, and I have yet to try it myself: in addition to the Depression era murals in the lobby, there’s a small second floor above it with more murals. This second floor was closed to the public up until 2014 and still isn’t as open as the lobby. You can book paid mural tours either in the ticket window at the lobby, or through the skip the line website (see above.) Or if you’d rather not pay anything, SF City Guides has a free tour of the murals on a regular basis. Both include access to the second floor area.

Are there other floors in the tower? I’ve long heard about how the tower’s original caretaker lived in a small apartment located within the tower, but always assumed the tale was apocryphal. Yet according to SF Gate the apartment was real:

If you are up there at the right time, you can see staff coming out a door, beneath Ben Cunningham’s “Outdoor Life.” This is something else as unknown as the second-floor murals: the long-rumored Coit Tower caretaker’s apartment, now converted to an office.

What were they thinking?! With a location like that, even a cramped apartment could have easily fetched a steep rent — especially if it included unlimited roof access. I’d certainly consider moving in.