March 2013 Coit Tower News

COIT TOWER NEWS – March 2013


The first part of a series of desperately-needed renovation and mural restoration work at Coit Tower is scheduled to be completed in two weeks, on April 12th.  Since scaffolding went up on the southwest side of Coit Tower in late October, workers hired by the Recreation & Parks Department have been removing and replacing the entire second floor roof, which has been responsible for systemic water leaks causing damage to the historic murals and building for the entire 80 year life of Coit Tower. 

According to the minutes of a San Francisco Board of Park Commissioners meeting on September 19, 1934 that were recently unearthed by Coit Tower volunteer tour guide Rory O’Connor, before the Tower even opened to the public in October 1934, the leaky roof was known by city officials to be a serious problem:

Leaky roof – Telegraph Hill Memorial Tower:  The question of the leaky roof on the second floor terrace of the Memorial Tower on Telegraph Hill was next discussed.  It was the unanimous opinion of the [Parks Commission] Board that this matter be referred to President Fleishhacker with full power to act. 

Emergency repair – Telegraph Hill Tower:  The Secretary announced that in order to prevent possible damage to the interior of the Memorial Tower on Telegraph Hill, an emergency repair in the amount of $25 was necessary at this time.  Referred to President Fleishhacker with full power to act.”  (minutes online:

While $25 and a vague plan of action were not good enough to fix the Coit Tower leaky roof problem in 1934 or since, Coit Tower fans are hopeful that the 5-month roof repair that just took place at a cost of approximately $150,000 will provide the historic Coit Tower murals with permanent protection from water damage for many years to come. 


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. 

The first Coit Tower mural prints will be available from Electric Works at the San Francisco Fine Art Fair at Fort Mason, May 16 through May 20.  For more information about the prints, contact Richard Lang at


A new book commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission about public art in the city features the colorful story of the construction of Coit Tower in 1933 and the painting of its historic murals the following year as the foremost example of the challenges faced by publicly-funded art in San Francisco.  The book, Arts for the City, by Susan Wels discusses why “art that matters” is worth supporting and fighting for.

Steven Winn, who wrote the Chronicle article “Author celebrates public art” about the new book, notes that, “Today, almost 80 years [after the creation of Coit Tower], the structure stands as testament, among other things, to the urgent and ongoing play of ideas about art in San Francisco's public sphere . . . When it comes to public art in San Francisco, the future rarely plays out according to any script. Projects that seem destined for controversy are quickly embraced. Others that look like consensus builders divide the city.  Art that matters - art that a community fosters and shares - is always worth talking about. No voice should be big or loud enough to drown out the others. And no voice is too faint or small to be heard.”

Susan Wels, the author of Arts for the City, will be giving a lecture about public art in San Francisco on Thursday, April 4, at 6:30 p.m. in the SF Main Library Latino Room.

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