Coit Tower News - May 2014

  COIT TOWER NEWS – May 2014
Two years after San Francisco voters approved the Coit Tower Preservation ballot measure Proposition B in 2012, Coit Tower has been rehabilitated, the historic murals restored, and new education and damage-prevention measures put in place.  May 14, 2014 was a gloriously beautiful day in San Francisco, and nowhere more so than on top of Telegraph Hill standing next to Lillie Hitchcock Coit’s gift to “the city I have always loved.”  Along with Donna “Lillie Coit” Huggins, Mal Sharpe’s Big Money in Jazz Band, the fire and police chiefs and assorted city officials, a beaming group of relatives of the Coit Tower artists came together with Coit Tower supporters from across San Francisco to celebrate this long-awaited day.  Special thanks to the Coit Tower artists’ relatives who came together in 2012 to urge voters to approve the Coit Tower ballot measure and who again made special trips to be there for the grand reopening:  Bruce Chesse (son of Coit Tower painter Ralph Chesse) Pete Arnautoff (grandson of Coit Tower artist Victor Arnautoff), Jayne Oldfield Blatchly, Ellen Fortier, and Rachel Prescott (daughter and granddaughters of Coit Tower artist Otis Oldfield), and Ruth and Adam Gottstein (daughter and grandson of Coit Tower artist Bernard Zakheim).
On the eve of the Coit Tower reopening, Carl Nolte of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote a fascinating front page feature story about Otis Oldfield and Jayne Oldfield Blatchly, the “keeper of the flame” of Oldfield’s art.  The Chronicle story reads as a wonderful window into life on Telegraph Hill in the 1930s when Oldfield and his family lived on unpaved Montgomery Street and he painted his Coit Tower art.  Click on this link to read the story online and see some fabulous photos of Otis and Jayne.
Special thanks also to Harvey Smith of the National New Deal Preservation Association and to the San Francisco Arts Commission for their collaboration to create a brand new set of artist informational plaques that now tell visitors who each Coit Tower artist was and provide some context for their art.
Watch this terrific ABC news story about the grand reopening of Coit Tower by clicking here:
Photos from Restored Coit Tower Reopening, May 14, 2014
photos courtesy of Richard Zimmerman

Pete Arnautoff, Jon Golinger, Ruth Gottstein, Bruce Chesse, Julie Jaycox








Jon Golinger, Donna “Lillie Coit” Huggins    


Maxine Albro’s restored mural “California”



Coit Tower News - April 2014


  COIT TOWER NEWS – April 2014


Mark your calendar – Coit Tower is set to reopen to the public on Wednesday, May 14.  According to the San Francisco Examiner, on May 14 at 11AM city officials will join families of the Coit Tower artists and Coit Tower advocates and fans at Coit Tower for an event to celebrate the reopening of this special place following a six month comprehensive renovation and mural restoration project.

As of late April, the $1.7 million Coit Tower renovation project that began in November 2013 was 90 to 92 percent complete, according to Toks Ajike of the SF Recreation and Parks Department. Last-minute touch-up work being finalized included installing lighting fixtures inside the mezzanine level, waterproofing some of the exterior and minor paint work in the interior.  Allison Cummings of the Arts Commission told the Examiner that restoration of the Depression-era murals was 80 percent complete, with mural touch ups and removal of white mineral salts that formed on the murals on the first floor completed.  The team of three art conservators and their assistant are working on restoring the second floor murals, which will take two to three weeks, according to the Arts Commission.

Please plan to join Protect Coit Tower and all who have worked so hard for the last several years to fix Coit Tower on May 14th to celebrate the restoration and reopening of Coit Tower for all to enjoy.



On April 29, the San Francisco Examiner printed an op-ed from Ruth Gottstein and Jon Golinger focusing on the original artists who painted the Coit Tower murals in 1934 with details about the Coit Tower art project.  As Coit Tower prepares to reopen to the public once again, it is an appropriate time to appreciate the 25 individual artists without whom the Coit Tower murals would not exist. 

The op-ed is reprinted below:


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Artists behind Coit Tower murals deserve praise 

By Ruth Gottstein and Jon Golinger

Two years ago, the people of San Francisco took a monumental step to protect the city landmark called Coit Tower and its famous New Deal-era fresco murals. In June 2012, San Francisco voters approved a historic ballot measure that required The City to take action to protect Coit Tower and its famous fresco murals from falling into further decay and disarray.

Despite a well-funded opposition campaign led by short-sighted individuals who attempted to portray efforts to preserve Coit Tower as some elitist crusade, voters from every section of The City voted to keep Coit Tower open to the public, rather than closed for private events, and to prioritize funds generated from visitors for its preservation. We are so encouraged that the people of this entire city recognized the value of this special place, and we are absolutely thrilled that their votes led to the $1.7 million Coit Tower restoration project that is nearing completion. We will be cheering when the doors to Coit Tower reopen in the next few weeks so the public can once again see Lillie Hitchcock Coit’s gift to San Francisco in all its glory.


However, it is troubling that so little attention has been paid in the news releases and media coverage about the Coit Tower renovation to the 25 artists without whom the murals would never have existed in the first place.


They are the four women and 21 men who worked efficiently and cooperatively in the first six months of 1934 to cover 3,691 square feet of the interior walls of Coit Tower with the first public works of art funded under the New Deal. Against the tumultuous backdrop of the Great Depression, and with a massive general labor strike taking place in San Francisco at that very moment, these 25 artists were nonetheless able to view San Francisco and California through a prism of optimism.


With the broad charge to create art depicting the theme of “Life in California,” the Coit Tower painters brought their very different backgrounds, perspectives and skills to work every morning to blend the reality on the streets they saw and the hopeful future they believed in into 22 fresco murals and five oil paintings that are so collaborative many people mistakenly believe they were all created by a single artist.


Identifying the artists is important, because they were individuals who worked hard to practice their craft with results that have enlightened generations of visitors to Coit Tower and illustrated the immeasurable and lasting benefits that publicly funded art can produce. Furthermore, we have uncovered some fascinating documents from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art that record the details of the Coit Tower art project, down to the exact amount each artist was paid for his or her contribution. According to the original Coit Tower project papers stored at the Archives of American Art, the entire mural project cost just $26,022, which was entirely paid for by federal funds through the Public Works of Art Project and supplemented by the State Emergency Relief Administration. The city of San Francisco paid nothing and got the murals for free.


The individual Coit Tower artists were paid approximately $1 per hour for the mural project — each artist earned an average of $639 for creating these historic artworks — and completed the job on budget and on schedule. Who the artists were and what they did before and after coming together for the Coit Tower mural project is a fascinating and colorful story. Here, we simply want to introduce the master artists who created the frescos at Coit Tower and encourage all interested to find out more.


The Coit Tower painters were Maxine Albro, Victor Arnautoff, Jane Berlandina, Ray Bertrand, Ray Boynton, Ralph Chesse, Rinaldo Cuneo, Ben Cunningham, Mallette Dean, Parker Hall, Edith Hamlin, George Harris, William Hesthal, John Langley Howard, Lucien Labaudt, Gordon Langdon, Jose Moya del Pino, Otis Oldfield, Frederick Olmsted Jr., Ralph Stackpole, Suzanne Scheuer, Edward Terada, Frede Vidar, Clifford Wight and Bernard Zakheim.


We thank these talented artists, along with Lillie Hitchcock Coit, for the beautiful gift they gave to every San Franciscan and to countless visitors from around the world. And we are so grateful to the people of San Francisco for taking action by voting for Proposition B in 2012 to ensure that the Coit Tower murals are restored, protected and once again made available for free for all to see for years to come.


Ruth Gottstein is the daughter of Coit Tower artist Bernard Zakheim and the publisher of “Coit Tower San Francisco: Its History and Art.” Jon Golinger is the founder of Protect Coit Tower.


Coit Tower News - March 2014


  COIT TOWER NEWS – March 2014


A team of experienced art conservators led by Anne Rosenthal, Gregory Thomas, and James Brenstein are hard at work every day to restore the 27 Coit Tower murals to good shape.  This is a fabulous sign of good progress towards ensuring that Coit Tower and its historic murals are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, and the care that will allow them to be available for future generations to consider and enjoy.  Read more about the Coit Tower mural restoration progress in the San Francisco Examiner article from March 21st, Makeover of SF’s Coit Tower nears completion.

Thanks for this goes first and foremost to the people of San Francisco for voting to pass Proposition B, the Coit Tower Preservation Policy, in June 2012 to correct the decades of neglect and decay to the Coit Tower building and murals due to poor stewardship by city agencies who treated Coit Tower as simply a “cash cow” for too long.  We sincerely hope that this is a new day for Coit Tower.

The reopening of Coit Tower to the public is scheduled for mid to late April, details to come. 


From the personal collection of former San Francisco art gallery owner Jan Holloway and her husband Maurice Holloway, the Thomas Reynolds Gallery is currently presenting historic paintings, prints, drawings, photographs and sculpture from early 20th century San Francisco – including the difficult days of labor struggles and war and happier scenes of San Francisco at play.   Much of this work has never before been exhibited and is offered for sale for the first time.

The exhibition Good Times – Hard Times: Uncommon Scenes of Early 20th Century San Francisco includes some of California’s most prominent artists of the era.  The artists featured in the exhibition include Coit Tower muralists Victor Arnautoff, Otis Oldfield, and Ralph Stackpole in addition to works from many other artists of the time.  The work of this era is also being spotlighted in two museum exhibitions, “The Bay Bridge: A Work in Progress, 1933-36” at the de Young Museum in San Francisco and “Peter Stackpole: Bridging the Bay” at the Oakland Museum.

Jan Holloway knew many of these artists and their families, and in the catalog of the exhibition she tells their stories.  Jan was active on the San Francisco art scene from 1978 until her retirement in 2005.  According to a review of the exhibit in the online magazine Art Matters:   “The sense of place in the Holloway collection is sometimes precious, sometimes explosive. The diverse artists represented here are the threads that built the structure and the richness of the tapestry of San Francisco’s art community.”

See Good Times-Hard Times at the Thomas Reynolds Gallery at 2291 Pine Street @ Fillmore until April 19, 2014.  Gallery hours are 12-6 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays or by appointment.  For more information call (415) 441-4093 or visit



Coit Tower News - February 2014

With great sadness, this month we mark the passing of one of the true Coit Tower heroes:  Masha Zakheim.
Masha and her sister Ruth are the daughters of Coit Tower muralist Bernard Zakheim.  For over 25 years, Masha served as a docent at Coit Tower, enlightening thousands of visitors from around the world about the artists and stories behind the Coit Tower murals.  Masha interviewed many of the Coit Tower artists and was the author of the Coit Tower “bible”, Coit Tower San Francisco:  Its History and Art, that has informed and inspired all of San Francisco to step up and work harder to celebrate, honor, respect and protect Coit Tower, its history and art.  From all of us who love Coit Tower now more than ever, thank you Masha.
In August, there will be a San Francisco gathering to celebrate Masha’s life and contribution to Coit Tower, art, and history.  We will be sure to announce the details when they are set.
Following Masha’s passing, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors adjourned its Feb. 25th meeting in her honor at the request of Supervisor John Avalos.  Supervisor Avalos read a message about Masha’s life and contributions to San Francisco as a longtime teacher at City College and her dedication to preserving the Diego Rivera mural “Pan American Unity” located at San Francisco City College, as well as her tireless work for the Coit Tower murals.
State Senator Mark Leno authored a California State Senate Proclamation honoring the life and work of Masha and her great contributions to art and history in California.  Senator Leno’s Proclamation is being sent to Masha’s daughters, Bethany and Leah.
To read an obituary written by Masha’s daughters, published in the February 23, 2014 Chronicle, and to sign the online Guest Book, visit this link:
San Francisco Chronicle reporter Carl Nolte also wrote a thoughtful obituary for Masha that was printed on the Sunday Chronicle on February 16, 2014.  It is reprinted below.
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Masha Zakheim, Coit Tower and Diego Rivera mural expert
By Carl Nolte
Masha Zakheim, an expert on San Francisco's Coit Tower and its famous murals, died Wednesday after a long illness at the home of one of her daughters in Los Angeles. Ms. Zakheim was 82.
She was the daughter of Bernard Zakheim, a noted San Francisco muralist and one of the artists who worked the noted Coit Tower murals.  Ms. Zakheim was also an expert of the work of Diego Rivera, the famed Mexican muralist, and helped to preserve the work he did in San Francisco in the 1930s.
She wrote two books on public art in San Francisco, one a widely praised book on Coit Tower and its murals and the other on Rivera, his friends and his work in San Francisco.  Ms. Zakheim was particularly devoted to Coit Tower. She spent more than 25 years as a volunteer docent at the tower and trained other docents and local tour guides in its history and significance.
"What a gift Masha gave to every San Franciscan by writing what has become the Coit Tower 'bible' that we have all learned so much from. She will be deeply missed,' said Jon Golinger, chair of Protect Coit Tower, a preservationist organization.
Ms. Zakheim was born in San Francisco in 1931 and held a bachelor's degree from San Francisco State College and a master's from UC Berkeley.
She taught English and humanities at the City College of San Francisco for 25 years, and when she retired in 1991, the college's academic senate passed a resolution praising her academic work and especially her efforts to help the public understand the Rivera murals on campus.
She is survived by two daughters, Bethany Start of Los Angeles and Leah Royall of London; a sister, Ruth Gottstein of Volcano (Amador County); and three grandchildren.  A memorial service will be held later this year.



Coit Tower News - January 2014


  COIT TOWER NEWS – January 2014



Two months after the closure of Coit Tower for the largest comprehensive series of repairs and conservation in its history, the project appears to be proceeding as planned and is reportedly on schedule for completion in mid-April, with mural restoration and conservation planned to continue through the spring.   Scaffolding that surrounded the top of Coit Tower was taken down this week and much of the exterior cleaning and repairs are complete. 

The SF Recreation and Park Department has posted photos of the exterior and interior repair work at a new blog created to follow the Coit Tower renovation project.  You can view it here:

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.



Following the mandate of the Coit Tower Preservation Policy ballot initiative approved by San Francisco voters in June 2012, the SF Recreation and Park Department has dropped its plans to require the proposed new Coit Tower gift-shop operator to begin renting Coit Tower out for private parties every month that would have excluded the public and put the historic murals at risk.  Instead, the proposed new five-year lease to allow Terry Grimm and Coit Tower LLC to manage the day-to-day operation of Coit Tower includes a provision prohibiting all after-hours private events at Coit Tower that would exclude the public. 

This is a big victory for the preservation of Coit Tower as the gift to every San Franciscan that Lillie Hitchcock Coit wanted it to be.  A special thanks goes to Adam Gottstein, grandson of Coit Tower muralist Bernard Zakheim, who learned about a secret candlelight private party held near the murals and sounded the alarm about the dangers that this posed to his grandfather’s art and the fragile murals.  Read more here:

The Board of Supervisors will be holding a public hearing to consider the proposed new Coit Tower Concession Lease with Terry Grimm and Coit Tower, LLC at the Budget and Finance Committee on Wednesday, February 5 at 10:30 AM in SF City Hall, Room 250.  If the Budget Committee approves the lease, the full Board will consider it on Tuesday, February 11. 

Read the SF Chronicle story about the proposed new Coit Tower lease by clicking here:

Read a copy of the proposed new Coit Tower lease by clicking here:

Read the letter from Protect Coit Tower about the proposed new lease by clicking here:





SF Examiner: New Coit Tower Vendor Lease Approved

January 24, 2014

The city Recreation and Park Commission gave final approval Thursday on a lease for new vendor operations at the iconic Coit Tower, which is scheduled to reopen in mid-April following a six-month renovation.

The journey to awarding a new vendor the lease was lengthy and at times marked with heated discussion, but the approval in the Recreation and Park Commission came easy.

Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of granting a five-year lease with one three-year extension option to Terry Grimm, the owner of Anchor Oyster Bar in the Castro.

When Coit Tower reopens, the public can expect a more involved operation than in the past, including guided tours, docents and high quality items that relate to the landmark in the gift store. These upgrades contributed to the operations committee’s decision on Nov. 7 to choose Grimm as the bid winner for the contract.

An expanded food and beverage service was a point of contention for community members including the group Protect Coit Tower. A decision on that option has been delayed until after the tower reopens.

“We’re all singing from the same song book that Coit Tower should be a museum, not just another tourist attraction and that’s a welcome change and it’s very promising,” said Protect Coit Tower Chairman Jon Golinger. “Now we’re just hoping for the follow through.”

The San Francisco Arts Commission, which is heading restoration of the tower’s damaged murals, asked for an additional $100,000 for preservation efforts.

“We are pleased to support their efforts to restore and conserve the murals as evidenced by the fact the Recreation and Park Department fully funded the current $250,000 restoration, our ongoing support of over $10,000 a year for conservation, and our support of this grant application,” said department spokeswoman Sarah Ballard.

Read the full story here:



SF Chronicle: New Coit Tower Management Plan Prohibits Private Parties Inside Coit Tower

January 23, 2014

When Coit Tower reopens in April after a six-month face-lift, the Telegraph Hill icon will have a new look and a new operator.

After nearly a decade of often rancorous discussions, a nasty 2012 election scrap and plenty of grudging compromises, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission is set Thursday to recommend a five-year lease agreement with Terry Grimm, owner of the Anchor Oyster Bar in the Castro and the upscale Kenwood Inn and Spa in Sonoma County.

Grimm's job will be to spiff up the look and operation of the city landmark, which has fallen on hard times in recent years.

"One of our goals is to enhance the visitor experience," said Sarah Ballard, a spokeswoman for the Recreation and Park Department.

That's a kind way of saying the city has been eager to dump the mom-and-pop operating style of Fashion House Inc., which has run the Coit Tower concession since 1992, and replace it with a more professional operation, including a uniformed elevator operator and docents who will greet visitors and conduct guided tours.

Gift-shop improvements

Grimm also has agreed to upgrade the gift shop, which has been little more than a candy and souvenir stand jammed into the tower's ground floor, into a shop that the lease says will be "attractive, dignified and uncluttered," focusing on books and souvenirs that are locally produced and highlight Coit Tower, its history and the city around it.

"Certainly we want to provide the opportunity to get a souvenir or two," said Nick Kinsey, director of property for the park department. "But we thought visitors needed a bookstore with items to interpret the experience, rather than a license plate with their name on it."

Professionalism is a priority in the new lease, he added.

The previous workers "were not always knowledgeable about Coit Tower, the importance of the murals and the need to protect them," he said.

While the 210-foot-tall tower, built in 1933 with a bequest from Lillie Hitchcock Coit, is a fixture of the city's skyline, the Depression Era-murals that cover the inside walls are the structure's artistic highlight. They have also been the flash point for many of the recent arguments about the best use for the facility.

It was concern over the deterioration of the murals that sparked Proposition B, a June 2012 advisory measure that called for strict limits on private events at Coit Tower.

The city's 2011 proposal for a new concessionaire called for an increase in private events and commercial activity at the tower to raise more money for the park department and its various programs and facilities, said Jon Golinger, one of the founders of Protect Coit Tower, the nonprofit group behind the ballot measure.

Public access key

"We wanted to make sure that the emphasis at Coit Tower was on public accessibility, not as simply a cash cow," especially when those private events, many taking place after regular hours, could endanger the murals, he said.

Prop. B passed with 53 percent of the vote, but that didn't end the dispute. Arguing that the measure was advisory only, the park department last year proposed an agreement that allowed one private event a month at Coit Tower.

The new concession agreement dumps the plan allowing any private events. What didn't go away, though, is the city's effort to pull more money out of the tower.

Over the past five years, the city has collected an average of $748,362 from the Coit Tower lease, almost all of it coming from the city's 90 percent share of the $7 cost of an elevator ride to the observation deck.

The new agreement calls for a minimum rent of $662,400 a year, but the city is expecting more than that. With no plans to boost the elevator charge, the city expects to collect $1.5 million from Coit Tower by 2019.

The bulk of the new money comes from the projected growth of those elevator fees, which means the park department is banking on a steady rise in the number of visitors to Coit Tower and the surrounding 4.8 acres of Pioneer Park.

"Coit Tower is pretty packed as it is, and I don't know how they're going to get more bodies in there," said Golinger, who is also an officer of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers, the politically influential local neighborhood association.

Disputes continue

Not all the disputes are settled. Grimm, with his restaurant background, originally talked about providing chowders, seafood cocktails and possibly sandwiches and other food at the site. But concerns from the Department of Public Health about providing restaurant-style food from a small cart that's allowed on site and neighborhood worries that food service would persuade people to linger and tie up traffic threatened to delay the new agreement.

The question of food will be "part of the continuing conversation" about the agreement, Ballard said, with any final decision coming after the facility reopens.

Plans now call for Grimm's contract to be approved by late February, so his crews can complete the gift store makeover by the time the tower is reopened in April.

If the Rec and Park Commission recommends approval of the agreement, as expected, the pact goes to the Board of Supervisors for the final OK.

Read the full story here:



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.



Coit Tower News - November 2013

COIT TOWER NEWS – 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. 
All of the city’s construction work during the five-month Coit Tower renovation project will be carefully monitored by the San Francisco Arts Commission to ensure that the historic fresco murals are not damaged, as they have been by other construction work inside Coit Tower in the past.  Protect Coit Tower asked Arts Commission Senior Registrar Allison Cummings for details about the precautions being taken to protect the murals and the status of the mural restoration and conservation project that will commence after most of the building repairs are complete.  Questions and answers from the Arts Commission follow:

1) How are the Coit Tower murals being protected during the renovation project to ensure they are not inadvertently damaged by workers or construction equipment?

Extensive mural protection measures are in place for the duration of the project. Specifications for mural protection, written by ARG-CS, were included as a part of the Rec & Park bid process, and the selected General Contractor is compliant. These specifications included physical protections for the floor, bronze railings, historic fixtures, and murals. These physical protections are barriers that prevent any mechanical interaction with sensitive surfaces for the duration of construction. In addition, all workers and subs on site receive sensitivity training and instruction how to properly move through the building. Arts Commission staff, ARG-CS staff, and Rec & Park staff have an active presence on site and continually monitor GC compliance.

2)  Is someone from the Arts Commission on-site at Coit Tower during the renovation project on a regular basis to monitor the murals and ensure their protection?

We have built multiple monitoring redundancies into the construction project. The Arts Commission and Rec & Park staffs are on site regularly. In addition, architectural staff from ARG and conservation staff from ARG-CS are in place to monitor the murals throughout the project. We are not only monitoring the construction process, we are conducting environmental monitoring and readings that will inform the conservation treatments. The murals were documented extensively before any construction began, establishing baseline conditions where changes can be easily detected during the course of the project.

3)  What is the status of the Art Commission's Coit Tower mural restoration project?  Has a contract been awarded yet to a person or organization to engage in the Coit Tower mural restoration and preservation project?

ARG-CS is the firm chosen to conduct the mural restoration. The lead conservator on the project is Anne Rosenthal who will be working with Jim Bernstein and Gregory Thomas – the same team that conducted the highly successful conservation project that took place from 1989-1992. The conservation survey of the murals, materials testing and environmental monitoring is underway. The treatment phase is scheduled to begin mid-March 2014 after completion of interior construction work.


ABC: Coit Tower To Close For Mural Repairs


Coit Tower to close Monday for renovation, restoration project

Saturday, November 16, 2013

San Francisco's landmark Coit Tower is set to close Monday for a five-month renovation project that includes the restoration of its famous Depression-era murals, according to city officials.

The $1.7 million renovation of the 80-year-old tower began last year with replacement of the roof, according to San Francisco Rec and Parks spokeswoman Sarah Ballard.

This year's closure will allow for the second phase of renovations, which include the repair of cracks on exterior walls, door and window replacements, lead paint abatement, upgrades to mechanical, plumbing and building systems and exterior lighting and accessibility improvements, officials said.

In addition, the building's iconic interior murals, which were painted in 1934 by a group of artists under the Public Works of Art Project, will undergo restoration under the supervision of the San Francisco Arts Commission, Ballard said.

Ballard said the renovations were phased to avoid a closure during peak tourist season.

"Every San Franciscan who hasn't been to Coit Tower in a while should make a special visit there this weekend to take a last look inside before the building and murals are closed to the public until next year," said Jon Golinger, a neighborhood activist and chairman of the group Protect Coit Tower.

"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," Golinger said.

Golinger's group sponsored Measure B, a non-binding June 2012 ballot measure calling for limits on private and commercial events at Coit Tower and the dedication of funds raised there to its preservation and upkeep.

The measure won approval despite opposition from park advocates who said revenues raised at Coit Tower should be available to help pay for less profitable parks.

Its passage was aided in part by a report released in May 2012 that found extensive damage to the tower and murals and made more than 100 recommendations, including new protections for the murals and possible changes in the management of the tower.

Following the release of the report, San Francisco city officials in May 2012 created a $1.7 million fund for Coit Tower's repair and restoration.

Coit Tower, which opened on Oct. 8, 1933, was funded by Lillie Hitchcock Coit, who left a third of her estate to build the structure.

Coit had been a well-known volunteer firefighter in the city despite her gender in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

(Copyright 2013 by Bay City News, Inc. Republication, re-transmission or reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. Is prohibited.)



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