Posts Tagged ‘telegraph hill’

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class="post-8595 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-local tag-coit-tower tag-murals tag-photos tag-san-francisco tag-telegraph-hill">

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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class="post-4793 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-local tag-coit-tower tag-north-beach tag-photos tag-san-francisco tag-telegraph-hill">

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.