Coit Tower News - December 2013


  COIT TOWER NEWS – December 2013
This year has been a remarkable one for the preservation and celebration of the special place called Coit Tower.  Below is a review of Coit Tower News highlights from 2013.  As we look forward to another big year for Coit Tower and its murals, please consider making a donation to the Protect Coit Tower Fund to support our educational efforts to promote the conservation, protection, and enhancement of Coit Tower and its historic murals.
To make a tax-deductible donation to support our work, please send your check to our non-profit fiscal sponsor, the Northeast San Francisco Conservancy, at the following address:
NESFC - Protect Coit Tower Fund
470 Columbus Ave. #211
San Francisco, CA 94133
January 2013
Bruce Chesse, son of Coit Tower artist Ralph Chesse, recently visited San Francisco from his home in Oregon to record an oral history with the Arts Commission and see his father’s mural for the first time in years.  The Chesse mural, entitled “Children At Play,” is a 9 foot by 6 foot fresco located on the Tower’s second floor, which has been closed to the public for decades and can currently only be viewed on special tours.  Taking one of these tours in late December, Bruce was able to see his father’s mural.  Bruce noted that, while his father was an incredibly prolific painter and sculptor, the Coit Tower mural was the only fresco he ever painted.  Ralph Chesse was best known as a professional puppeteer, working mainly in children’s theater and in 1952 creating the popular morning TV show “Brother Buzz,” which aired for 17 years and taught kids the importance of being kind to animals.  (Learn about “Brother Buzz” here: 
Bruce himself became a professional puppeteer, actor, and teacher, which he remains today.  Learn more about Ralph, Bruce, and the Chesse family by clicking here.
February 2013
KQED has unveiled an exciting new multi-media project to promote education and awareness about the Coit Tower murals and other New-Deal era artworks and projects across San Francisco.  Called “Let’s Get Lost,” the KQED Project features 60 free original video and audio tours containing new information, archival clips, and interviews with historians about the Coit Tower murals and other New Deal art around San Francisco.  Click on the following link to download the app to your phone or ipad:
The Attack on Coit Tower video focuses on the reactionary efforts to censor some of the Coit Tower murals, and shows a rare close-up photograph of the mural painted by Clifford Wight that included a hammer and sickle and became the focus of right-wing attacks.  It was eventually was covered-up by workers from the city Park Commission. 
You can view the Attack on Coit Tower video and the entire “Let’s Get Lost” series on YouTube by clicking here:
March 2013
Following through on an idea raised during the successful Proposition B Coit Tower Preservation Campaign last spring, a San Francisco art gallery and print publisher will soon be offering a limited edition of photographic prints of Coit Tower murals and donating a portion of the proceeds to the San Francisco Arts Commission to fund Coit Tower mural restoration and preservation.
Richard Lang of Electric Works in San Francisco met last spring at Coit Tower with Jessica Gottstein, great-granddaughter of Coit Tower muralist Bernard Zakheim, and Jon Golinger, Chair of Protect Coit Tower, to discuss the idea of a photo print fundraising project for Coit Tower.  Mr. Lang previously organized a successful fundraising project to restore and preserve a WPA mural created by Maurice Del Mue in 1934 in the San Geronimo Valley Community Center in Marin County, once the home of the Lagunitas School.  The Chronicle featured a story about that project on November 16, 2003 called, “Valley of the Artists:  Mural still speaks to bucolic San Geronimo.”
Last August, Electric Works and the San Francisco Arts Commission entered into a formal agreement to have sections of the Coit Tower murals photographed and made into a limited edition print series.  Electric Works will be donating 40% of the profits from the prints after they have recouped their photography and printing costs. 
For more information about purchasing a Coit Tower Mural print, contact Richard Lang at
April 2013
For the first time in the 80 year history of Coit Tower, the second floor roof of the Tower has been fully repaired to fix systemic water leaks that have allowed rainwater and moisture to seep in and damage the historic building and its murals for decades.  This project was needed for years but only finally happened because of the clear mandate by San Francisco voters who approved the Coit Tower Preservation Policy on the June 5, 2012 ballot to make the protection of Coit Tower and its historic murals a priority. 
Thanks to Toks Ajike and Matt Jasmin with the Capital Division of the Department of Recreation and Parks for carefully shepherding this important project to completion. 
Next up is the larger series of Coit Tower renovations, building repairs, and mural restoration and preservation work mandated by the voters and funded in part by a $1.7 million Coit Tower repair fund created by Mayor Lee and Board of Supervisors President Chiu.  Read the 2012 Coit Tower Conditions Assessment report by clicking here:
May 2013
In cooperation with the San Francisco Arts Commission, the children of some of the original Coit Tower artists recently participated in interview sessions in San Francisco for the NPR StoryCorps Oral History project.  Jayne Blatchly Oldfield, daughter of Coit Tower oil painter Otis Oldfield, Bruce Chesse, son of Coit Tower muralist Ralph Chesse, and Ruth Gottstein, daughter of Coit Tower muralist Bernard Zakheim, all recorded 30 minute interviews earlier this year at the StoryCorps recording booth located inside the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.  Hopefully, some or all of the interviews will be made available through the StoryCorps project in the months ahead. 
In their conversation, Ruth and her son (and Bernard Zakheim’s grandson) Adam talked about Zakheim’s colorful career, memories of the painting of Coit Tower, and life in San Francisco during the 1930s.  In her remarks about what Coit Tower and its murals mean today, Ruth said, “I am always astonished at the relevance today of the murals, of those artists.  They were not only artists, they were brilliant, brilliant people to have painted in such a fashion that, decades later, what they had to say to all of us still matters.  And that’s why we really have to work on the protection of our murals at Coit Tower.  They really should be in a museum – if we can’t do that we should do what we can do protect them.  Because if they are protected they will last forever.” 
You can click on the following link to listen to the full conversation between Ruth and Adam:
June 2013
One June 5, 2013, one year after San Francisco voters approved the historic ballot measure aimed at protecting Coit Tower and its damaged New Deal-era murals from years of neglect and decay, Coit Tower supporters praised the attention being given to repairing the damaged building and preserving the art inside.  At the same time, families of the Coit Tower mural artists and other backers of the measure approved by San Francisco voters urged the City to move forward “full-speed ahead” with dozens of repairs and other measures identified in an independent report as urgent and necessary to preserve the 80-year old building and historic art.
“I thank San Francisco voters for the fact that, for the first time in its 80-year history, Coit Tower has finally begun to get the attention and resources it so badly needs and deserves,” said Ruth Gottstein, the daughter of Coit Tower artist Bernard Zakheim, in a Sunday San Francisco Chronicle story about the one-year anniversary of the passage of Prop. B and the Coit Tower renovations.  “I urge the City to move forward full speed ahead with the Coit Tower mural preservation work and building renovations without any more delays.”
On June 5, 2012, San Francisco voters approved Proposition B, establishing a new official “Coit Tower Preservation Policy” that directs city officials to strictly limit commercial activities and private events at Coit Tower and to prioritize the over $800,000 in city revenue generated by Coit Tower every year for preserving the murals, fixing the Tower, and beautifying Pioneer Park around Coit Tower.
“San Francisco voters spoke loudly and clearly last year when they embraced Coit Tower as a symbol of our city’s creative spirit, artistic talent, and sheer beauty,” said Jon Golinger, Chair of Protect Coit Tower.  “Over the next year we will keep working to see that all of the protections are put in place to ensure that Coit Tower and its murals can continue to inspire people for decades to come.”
July 2013
On October 8, 1933, San Franciscans gathered together atop Telegraph Hill to celebrate the creation of a beautiful new addition to the city landscape that would transform it forever.  It was on that day that the Coit Tower, designed by Arthur Brown, Jr., was officially completed and dedicated, its 210 feet rising high into the sky.  Thanks to the generosity of Lillie Hitchcock Coit, who so generously left a third of her estate “to beautify the city I have always loved,” Coit Tower has remained a symbol of San Francisco’s creative spirit and artistic independence from that day until this one.
This October 8th, San Franciscans will once again gather to celebrate the Coit Tower spirit with an 80th Birthday Party & Art Show at the Live Worms Gallery on Grant Avenue in North Beach.  The event will feature rarely-seen artwork from some of the original Coit Tower muralists and Coit Tower inspired-art by today’s working San Francisco artists.
August 2013
On August 22nd, fans of Lillie Hitchcock Coit gathered together at the headquarters of the SF Fire Department in front of the original Knickerbocker No. 5 fire engine to commemorate the 170th birthday of this special San Francisco woman the following day. 
San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White cut the “Happy Birthday Lillie” cake and spoke about the deep connection between San Francisco firefighters and the woman known as ‘Firebelle Lil’ who, at the age of eight, was rescued from a burning building by a volunteer member of fire company Knickerbocker No. 5.  Forever after, Lillie cheered on and supported her favorite firefighters at every opportunity.  At the age of 15 she famously dropped her schoolbooks and began pulling a fire engine up Telegraph Hill when she saw firefighters struggling to make it.  She became an honorary member of the Knickerbocker No. 5 company, wearing the company’s helmet with a front piece that included her initials and a gold badge featuring the Number 5.
On behalf of the Coit family, a “Happy Birthday Lillie” message from Susie Coit Williams was read at the party.  Thanks to the Guardians of the City for showcasing and safeguarding some of the special Lillie items and to Ken Maley for organizing a very nice event worthy of a very special San Franciscan.  See party photographs by clicking here:
September 2013
Two years after issuing a request for proposals to replace the concession company that has run the gift shop and elevator concession at Coit Tower, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department has announced that it has a new plan and intends to move it forward soon. 
At a community meeting in North Beach, representatives from the Recreation and Park Department will discuss the details of the draft 5 year lease they have negotiated with Terry Grimm, the owner of Coit Tower, LLC, for the management of the Coit Tower gift shop, elevator, a new Coit Tower mural education and tour program, and a new outside food and drink cart in the area behind Coit Tower.  In recognition of the strong public opposition to the original proposal by the city to begin closing off Coit Tower for private parties and events, the proposed lease drops that plan and prohibits any such events from being held within Coit Tower that would exclude the public. This is great news.
October 2013
On October 8, 2013, dozens of San Franciscans gathered together atop Telegraph Hill with relatives of Lillie Hitchcock Coit and families of some of the original Coit Tower muralists together to celebrate the 80th. birthday of the one and only Coit Tower.  They spoke, laughed, sang “Happy Birthday Coit Tower,” and unveiled a huge Coit Tower birthday cake custom-made for the event by Victoria Pastry in North Beach.
That afternoon and evening, several hundred people enjoyed a one-day-only Coit Tower art show at Live Worms Gallery in North Beach that featured fabulous art by Coit Tower muralists Otis Oldfield, Ralph Chesse, Victor Arnautoff, and Bernard Zakheim along with Coit Tower inspired art by talented San Francisco artists working today, including Paul Madonna, Dennis Hearne, Daniel Macchiarini, John Mattos, Richard Zimmerman, and Mel Solomon.  The show was co-sponsored by the San Francisco Arts Commission, Telegraph Hill Dwellers, the National New Deal Preservation Association, Living New Deal, and the North Beach Business Association.
A huge Coit Tower thank you goes to artists Julie Jaycox and Jennifer Morningstar for co-curating the art show event and for Richard Zimmerman for providing invaluable support.  A big thank you also goes to Angelo Figone for his contribution to help rent the gallery space and to Paul Madonna for his donation of art for the Coit Tower Party & Art Show poster and to John Mattos for his incredible poster design.
For a taste of the events, watch the NBC News story “Happy 80th Birthday to Coit Tower” by clicking here.
Here's to many more Happy Birthdays for Coit Tower in the years to come!
November 2013
On Monday, November 18, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department closed Coit Tower to the public to begin a series of badly needed major repairs and renovations of the Coit Tower exterior, interior, and a restoration of the damaged historic murals.  The anticipated schedule of the project is five months, from November 18, 2013 until April 18, 2014.  This will be the largest and most comprehensive restoration of Coit Tower in its 80 year history.
“We are thrilled to see this long-overdue Coit Tower preservation project get underway thanks to San Francisco voters demanding that the city stop allowing Coit Tower and its historic murals to fall into decay and start treating Coit Tower like the incredibly valuable place it really is,” said Jon Golinger, Chairman of the group Protect Coit Tower, which sponsored the Coit Tower Preservation ballot measure approved by San Francisco voters in June 2012.  “We are looking forward to the reopening of Coit Tower in the spring when it will be back in good shape and ready to shine once again.” 
The $1.7 million Coit Tower repair and restoration project includes urgent repairs of cracks in the exterior walls near the top of Coit Tower, door and window replacement to reduce water leakage, lead paint abatement, upgrades to mechanical, plumbing and building systems, upgrades to exterior lighting, modification of guardrails and handrails, new accessibility and educational signage, and new barriers to protect the 27 historic New-Deal era murals and paintings inside Coit Tower.


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