Bay Citizen: Confused Rec and Park Said Diego Rivera Painted Coit Tower Murals

By   December 5, 2011

Was this mural at Coit Tower painted by Diego Rivera? Hint: No it was not.

Fans of the great Mexican muralist Diego Rivera know they can see his work at City College, the San Francisco Art Institute, and the old Pacific Stock Exchange building.

They will be surprised to find that his colorful depictions of working class struggle have now somehow appeared on the walls at the Coit Tower — that is, according to San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department.

In seeking a new vendor to run the San Francisco landmark, the Rec and Park Department issued a request for proposals that crows: “Boasting visitorship of over 200,000 annually, Coit Tower is a must‐see for all tourists, both because of its views and because of the extensive WPA‐era murals, including those by Diego Rivera, throughout the interior.”

But in spite of Rec and Park’s apparent art history revelation, which is repeated several times in the document, there are no murals by Rivera at Coit tower. And there never have been.

The colorful scenes of the Great Depression featuring steelworkers, farmers and shopkeepers were painted by about 25 artists including Victor Arnautoff, Maxine Albro and Bernard Zakheim with funding from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s WPA.

Jorge Morell, a docent at San Francisco mural powerhouse Precita Eyes, says it’s a common mistake because the style is similar and because some of the artists apprenticed to Rivera.

“If you’re not an expert you might make the mistake because the style is very similar,” said Morell. “But for someone who is knowledgeable that should not have happened, but we all make mistakes.”

The move to bid out the contract to run the elevator, gift shop and sell food would actually increase the amount of money targeted for maintaining the murals that the Rec and Park department believed to be Rivera’s handiwork. Under the new plan, one percent of the rent would go to the city’s art commission for that purpose; currently funds are allocated on an as-needed basis.

Nick Kinsey, assistant director of property management for Rec and Park, said he didn’t know how the mistake was made, but acknowledged that in fact there are no hidden Riveras at Coit Tower. The important part, he said, is that the “San Francisco treasure” would be well-maintained.

Right now Coit Tower brings in about $1 million with most of the money coming from the elevators and the gift shop. Kinsey said he’d like to see better offerings when it comes to food and merchandise at the site.

But the powerful neighborhood group, the Telegraph Hill Dwellers, is worried that Rec and Park wants to commercialize Coit Tower much like Fisherman’s Wharf.

“This bit of carelessness and attitude seems to indicate that this is a marketing opportunity and not a stewardship opportunity,” said Jon Golinger of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers.

Diego Rivera
On the other hand this one is a Diego Rivera mural at City College.

Source: The Bay Citizen (

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