May 2013 Coit Tower News


  COIT TOWER NEWS – May 2013
The specific details of the badly-needed and long-delayed series of repairs and restoration work at Coit Tower have been formally approved to proceed by the San Francisco Planning Department.  Last month, the Planning Department issued an official “Certificate of Appropriateness” for the Coit Tower Rehabilitation Project after reviewing a detailed list of specifications outlining the parameters of the restoration work.  
The Coit Tower Rehabilitation Project will include extensive repairs of cracks in the exterior concrete walls, marble restoration, window and door restoration, stucco cleaning and repair, graffiti removal, lead paint removal, and new painting.  Extensive preservation measures will be put in place to protect the historic features and fixtures inside Coit Tower, with special precautions taken to ensure that the frescos and mural artworks inside Coit Tower are fully protected from risk of damage. 
The work for the Coit Tower Rehabilitation Project is being put out to bid now, with the project scheduled to start in October.  The Arts Commission is planning to engage in extensive mural restoration and conservation immediately following the building repairs.
“Let’s Get Lost,” the KQED app for mobile phones that launched earlier this year, has added some exciting new features to its Coit Tower murals tour including one that shines an illuminating spotlight on Coit Tower painter Maxine Albro. 
The KQED “Let’s Get Lost” project was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and produced in partnership with California’s Living New Deal Project and the California Historical Society.  The Let’s Get Lost app – which can be downloaded here – provides video and audio for mobile phone tours of three key New Deal art sites in San Francisco:  Rincon Annex, The Pan American Unity Mural at City College, and the Coit Tower mural collection.  The tours provide insight into the artists and put the painting of these New Deal murals in the context of the dynamic times in which they were created.
The KQED Coit Tower murals tour includes an “Explore” option and a new “Hunt” option. 
By tapping “Explore,” a visitor can use a floor plan of Coit Tower to walk around and tap on hotspots to learn more about many of the murals. 
The new “Hunt” option provides the user with 6 images of details taken from different Coit Tower murals.  The user is supposed to walk around inside Coit Tower, looking carefully at each of the murals to find the 6 details.  Once any of them is found, the user takes a photo of the detail that, if recognized, will unlock and play a special video with “hidden secrets” about the mural and the artist who created it.
One of the “Hidden Mural Secrets” images is a detail inside the Maxine Albro mural “California Agriculture” of a woman in a fine Sunday dress holding a lovely batch of Cala Lilies in her arms.  The text of the video that plays once unlocked is as follows:
"Who is this woman with the pretty necklace?  Some believe she's a secret homage to the master himself - Diego Rivera.  The Cala Lilies are the key.  Look at your screen.  Rivera painted them over and over to symbolize Mexico's beauty.  Maxine Albro admired Rivera deeply.  She traveled to Mexico to watch him work and learned the art of fresco painting from one of his assistants.
At the time she was painting this scene, Rivera was embroiled in a huge controversy over communist images in a mural he painted for New York's Rockefeller Center.  Look at your screen.  That's the mural.  Do you see Vladimir Lenin?  Rivera refused to remove him, and the mural was destroyed.   Maxine Albro and her fellow artists were outraged.  They staged a noisy protest outside Coit Tower.  That's her in the overalls.
Perhaps she included this woman in the mural as another way of showing her support."
While better experienced while visiting Coit Tower, you can watch the KQED clip about Maxine Albro, her Coit Tower mural, and their connection to Diego Rivera on YouTube at the following link:

If you would like to know more about Maxine Albro and her experiences and observations painting Coit Tower, you can read a fascinating oral history interview with her and her husband Parker Hall – also a Coit Tower painter – in the Archives of American Art, available online here:





April 2013 Coit Tower News


  COIT TOWER NEWS – April 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:


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.  Protect Coit Tower has requested that the Historic Preservation Commission hold a public hearing on the proposed Coit Tower renovation project this spring to ensure the public is fully informed and that all of the recommendations for Coit Tower fixes contained in the 2012 city-commissioned report by the Architectural Resources Group are incorporated into the renovation and preservation plans. 

Read the 2012 Coit Tower Conditions Assessment report by clicking here:


A proposed contract for a new concession company to take over the management of the Coit Tower gift shop, elevator, and related services remains in the process of negotiation between the Recreation and Parks Department and the proposed new vendor it selected over 10 months ago, with the outcome of the negotiations uncertain. 

A story in the San Francisco Examiner earlier this year reported that the Department of Public Health rejected the initial plans for expanded food operations at Coit Tower for public health reasons, and voters last year rejected the Recreation and Parks Department’s plans for monthly private events that close off Coit Tower to the public.

The Recreation & Parks Department states that it is “diligently working towards a lease agreement” with the selected vendor, Terry Grimm, and that if they are able to mutually agree on lease terms will present the proposed plans to the public for input and review and then to the Recreation & Parks Commission and Board of Supervisors for approval.


City Delays Renovations of Coit Tower

Renovations at San Francisco’s Coit Tower Delayed

April 3, 2013

by Chris Roberts

Wet weather postponed “emergency” repairs to Coit Tower’s leaky roof throughout the winter, while a long-awaited $1.5 million rehabilitation of the entire deteriorating San Francisco landmark has been delayed until after the annual crowds of tourists go home in October.

Built in 1933 and declared a national historic site in 2008, the art deco icon has suffered in recent years from neglect and deferred maintenance. There are cracks in the 180-foot concrete exterior, bathrooms and electrical fixtures are outdated, and water damage to the 25 New Deal-era murals necessitates a separate $250,000 repair job.

Emergency work to replace the “extremely deteriorated” rooftop — through which the rainwater that damaged the murals leaked — was supposed to be finished by Nov. 8, before the winter rains began.

But wet weather put off work for much of the winter, and worse-than-expected conditions on the roof meant that work took longer than expected, said Sarah Ballard, a spokeswoman for the Recreation and Park Department, which manages the property. The roof fix is now expected to be finished later this month.

More extensive, long-term fixes — sealing cracks in the exterior, replacing tiles and surfaces, fixing the bathrooms and electrical systems, and improving access for disabled people, all of which must be completed before the murals can be restored — were originally scheduled to begin in January and finish by May 1, according to documents presented to city officials in October.

That work will now begin in October, after the high tourist season ends, Ballard said.

The tower will be temporarily closed for a still-undetermined length of time during the renovation process.

Staffers from the America’s Cup Organizing Committee briefly considered using Coit Tower as a hospitality venue during the upcoming yacht races, according to records.

In an e-mail, a Rec and Park property manager said repair work — which will require the tower to be closed temporarily — could be delayed until after the races are conducted from July through September.

“We probably shouldn’t start the work until after [the] America’s Cup,” property manager Cassandra Costello wrote in an email dated Jan. 22.

Coit Tower was among a “number of venues” considered for Cup-connected events, but regatta organizers have no plans to use the site, spokeswoman Jane E. Sullivan said.

Other delays also are ongoing at Coit Tower, which is visited by an estimated 200,000 people annually. Plans to replace the gift shop with a new concessionaire that would serve crab sandwiches and other high-class fare — which would in turn fund hiring more staff, including a museum-style docent to oversee the murals — are still in limbo nearly 10 months after their approval.


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.


February 2013 Coit Tower News


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 KQED project was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and produced in partnership with California’s Living New Deal Project and the California Historical Society.

The KQED Coit Tower murals tour puts the painting of the first New Deal-funded murals by 25 working artists in the context of the dynamic and tumultuous time in 1934 when they were created.  The Coit Tower tour features 19 short video and audio clips covering a range of interesting topics such as Women at Work, Hidden Meanings in Murals, and The Monkey Block.  Featured commentators in the Coit Tower tour clips include Dr. Gray Brechin with the Living New Deal Project, San Francisco State Professor Emeritus Robert Cherny, art historian Anthony Lee, and Ruth Gottstein, daughter of Coit Tower artist Bernard Zakheim and publisher of the book “Coit Tower:  Its History and Art.”   

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:


While the 25 original Coit Tower mural artists are no longer with us, the vivid description of the scene inside Coit Tower in early 1934 when the murals were created lives on in a number of fascinating oral history transcripts that can be found in the Research Collection of the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

Otis Oldfield was a prolific painter recruited to lead the small cadre of artists who created the beautiful oil paintings that cover the walls of the central lobby area inside Coit Tower.  While the four Coit Tower oil paintings located in the lobby are likely the most viewed of all of Coit Tower artworks because of their placement near the popular elevator entrance, these artworks have tended to receive the least attention because they are neither frescoes nor as overtly “political” as many of the other murals. 

In this excerpt from an interview with Otis Oldfield at his San Francisco home on May 21, 1965 by Lewis Ferbrache (available on-line here:, Oldfield recounted how the Coit Tower oil paintings came together:

MR. OLDFIELD: The thing was, yes, it came up that the Coit Tower came into view.
MR. FERBRACHÉ: That was about January 1934.
MR. OLDFIELD: I don’t remember exactly when I went there, it must have been ’34 because I went to Logan that year to teach in the summer class.
MR. FERBRACHÉ: Logan College [Utah Agricultural College]?
MR. OLDFIELD: Yes, it was. The head artist there [Calvin Fletcher], who wrote me a letter, said he would like to have me come back with him. He had been out here and he looked around and he knew people, but anyhow it was that year. Now there was a meeting at which this Stafford Duncan and Dr. Heil were –
MR. FERBRACHÉ: Charles Stafford Duncan?
MR. OLDFIELD: Charles Stafford Duncan and Dr. Heil were the important ones in this meeting. Now there’s everybody there: Stackpole and all the whole crowd were doing frescoes with Arnautoff and they were set. They had the bottom walls in there, so I –
MR. OLDFIELD: Yes, so I was in the entrance room and outside there was a little waiting room. Upstairs there were others. Rinaldo Cuneo was out there and William Gaw was out there and Moya del Pino was out there, and a few others, and that’s all I had on my mind. And I was called in, I went in there and Dr. Heil asked me if I had anything on my mind. I said, “Yes, I have. How about all these guys are fresco painters. How about we oil painters? What are we going to do?” He said, “You’ve got a good idea there [oil murals].” So they told me, “You take the lobby. Have you got your men?” I said, “Yes, they’re out there.” So I went out there and they were sitting and talking. I said, “Come on in here and don’t say anything but yes.”
MR. FERBRACHÉ: A couple of assistants that you had?
MR. OLDFIELD: No, no, there was Moya del Pino, Rinaldo Cuneo and Gaw. So they went in there and said, “Yes.” And when I got out of there I said, “We got the lobby.” So it happened that Cuneo did two, del Pino did one, I did one, because it happened that Gaw had some work, so that he couldn’t do it at that time. See, he was unable to carry it out, so Cuneo did two murals. And then I finished all the lunettes up there around, over the elevator doors, you know. They’re circular, above the doors, and the doors are cut square and there’s these circles up there, I did seagulls and stuff like that. And we painted it up to suit ourselves.

Unfortunately, the City of San Francisco continues to fail to properly protect and respect Otis Oldfield’s Coit Tower oil painting, allowing the informational plaque that should identify the artist and artwork to go missing and failing to install adequate protective barriers to prevent all of the Coit Tower oil paintings from being leaned on and scratched by visitors waiting for the elevator or accidentally banged by backpacks.  Promises have been made to fix these problems, but nothing has yet been done.

Otis Oldfield’s daughter Jayne Oldfield Blatchly, who along with her sister was painted as a young girl in her father’s Coit Tower mural, described her memory of the scene inside and outside Coit Tower when the murals were created during a time of labor strikes and Great Depression:   

“My father’s mural, for instance, if studied knowingly, reveals to an historian the small boats waiting to be unloaded while the time driven lumber schooners motor away empty because they have dumped their cargo of valuable timber on the edge of the wharf to rot.  Each mural and fresco will be found to contain this sort of historic lesson. 

From the waterfront, where striking stevedores were living in packing boxes at a starvation level, men would venture to our front porch on Telegraph Hill begging for anything to eat.  I remember my mother giving such a man one banana – though she did not have enough for her family – out of extreme pity.  I saw tears fill her eyes as she watched him devour the fruit, skin and all in one or two bites.  During the hours of Bloody Thursday, we could hear the shots and men screaming as the strikers were attacked by the National Guard.  Thank goodness I have not witnessed such hard times since.

By contrast, the environment in and about the Tower was an entirely different matter.  The spirit of camaraderie and respect prevailed.  Being among creative people with a sense of mutual purpose and concern in making good use of their talent was one of the most uplifting experiences of my young life.  Being able to play in the midst of busy professionals, who laughed as they worked long hours, is the best of my memories.”

– from Jayne Oldfield Blatchly remarks at 75th Anniversary Lillie Coit Tower Memorial Celebration, June 1, 2008

As the 80th anniversary of Coit Tower approaches this fall, we must continue to work to respect and protect the generous gift from Lillie Coit and 25 dedicated artists “who laughed as they worked long hours” to create something special and lasting for us all.


SF Examiner: Coit Contract Suffers Indigestion

February 8, 2013

By: Chris Roberts
SF Examiner Staff Writer

A restaurateur’s plan to upgrade the visitor experience at Coit Tower has stalled due to a disagreement between two city departments.

Terry Grimm, whose family operates Anchor Oyster Bar in the Castro district, received approval from the Recreation and Park Commission in June to become Coit’s new concessionaire.

Grimm’s plan was to double Coit’s staff and add guides who would watch over the famous Depression-era murals.

The gift shop would sell American-made items consistent with the site’s theme, and visitors would snack on crab and shrimp sandwiches served outside from a cart, the sales of which would make the whole arrangement financially viable.

Eight months after receiving approval, Grimm is still without a lease, in large part because he can’t get Public Health Department approval for the food operation, public records show. Grimm directed all questions to the Recreation and Park Department.

A new concessionaire was sought because the current family-run Fashion House Inc. concession had fallen out of favor with neighbors and park advocates for its low-key style and generic knickknacks. It has been on a month-to-month lease since 2002.

Grimm’s food was to be sold from a cart outside the tower, which has no commercial kitchen facilities. There’s space on the south patio for a small cart with a wheelbase of 48 inches. Only tamales and hot dogs or coffee and pastries can be sold from such a small cart, according to health rules.

Instead of seafood, Grimm suggested selling espresso, gelato and other small pastries, an idea nixed by Rec and Park staff in the fall. “We need you to sell food at the tower like we have told the public and our commission,” property manager Cassandra Costello wrote to Grimm in an October e-mail obtained through a public records request.

Staffers asked Grimm to hurry with specifics in October “in order to stay on schedule.” It’s unclear how far apart the two parties are currently. Sarah Ballard, a Rec and Park spokeswoman, would only say that “negotiations are ongoing.”

Grimm might ask for approval to permanently park a food truck near the tower, from which his sandwiches could be legally served. Ballard did not respond to an inquiry about the food truck.

Grimm’s proposal was to be a moneymaker for the department, which projected $677,400 in minimum annual revenue. Last year, Rec and Park received $870,768 from the existing vendor.

Following his winning bid, Grimm also informed Rec and Park staff that “the museum store will need a complete remodel.”

Also at issue is the ability to host special events at the tower outside of its usual daytime operating hours, a contentious issue with neighborhood residents. Such a proposal would require approval by the Board of Supervisors. 

The delay is wearing on some residents.

“If you walk inside Coit Tower, it looks as bad or worse than it did a year ago,” said Jon Golinger, chairman of the neighborhood group Protect Coit Tower. “As the months go by, nothing has changed and there’s no apparent upgrade to anything. People are wondering what’s happening.”


January 2013 Coit Tower News

2013 marks 80 years since the construction of Coit Tower was completed on October 8, 1933.  Fittingly, this year promises to be another transformational year in the life of this special place and the unique murals that reside inside.  Some of the latest Coit Tower news:


Plans by the city to hand over the keys to Coit Tower to a new outside vendor appear to be stalled after an end-of-year deadline set by the city agency currently responsible for Coit Tower came and went.  In a letter to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors last fall, Recreation and Parks Department Director Phil Ginsburg pledged to “present a new lease for the operation of the concessions at Coit Tower by the end of the year” after finalizing an agreement with Terry Grimm, the operator of Kenwood Inn and Spa and Anchor Oyster Bar, who the Department selected last June to take over Coit Tower operations from the current vendor (read the letter by clicking here).  However, no such lease materialized by the end of the year or has so far in 2013.  Indications are that Mr. Grimm – who received positive marks from community members for his open approach and interest in improving Coit Tower – has been unable to reach financial terms with the city that would make it fiscally feasible for him to proceed.

Meanwhile, the visitors center at Lands’ End/Sutro Baths – overhauled last year by the National Park Service, in partnership with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy – has been getting rave reviews for its classy design and emphasis on education rather than commercialism.  Read a recent review here & go visit yourself:


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 (see a photo of Bruce in front of his father's mural by clicking here).  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.


Winter rains in December and early January caused water to seep into Coit Tower, but a renewed public demand for mural preservation appears to have helped prevent new damage to historic frescoes already in need of repairs.  A series of heavy rainstorms in early December leaked rainwater into the main floor of Coit Tower in several places, including the southeast ceiling directly over the fresco “Department Store” by Frede Vidar.  City workers already conducting major repairs of the second floor were quickly alerted to the leaks, installed temporary plastic sheeting over the Vidar mural and adjacent areas and alerted the Arts Commission, which implemented additional measures.  The water leaks – which have been an ongoing danger to the murals since Coit Tower was first built – are expected to be eliminated by additional metal “flashing” that has been added to the existing roof repair project, which should be completed soon.

Read a San Francisco Examiner story about the rain leaks and response by clicking here: - 


Finally, this request from a fan of Lillie & Coit Tower looking for an artistic collaborator:

Hello Friends of Coit Tower,

I too am fascinated by this tower, a generous donation to the city of SF by the very interesting Lillie Coit.  I researched her life and was so intrigued that I wrote a book for children about this amazing lady, who is an example of perseverance, generosity, and curiosity.  I am looking for an illustrator - one who is willing to draw San Francisco in the 1850s.  The book is geared to 5-8 year olds and I hope to share it in local schools, maybe dressing as Lillie and telling her story.  I believe it is a tragedy that kids growing up in SF have no idea who she was, and how she inspired people.  If you would like to work with me in this self-publishing adventure, please be in touch. 
Barbara Lockwood  - Cell phone # {831} 234-0973 -


November 2012 Coit Tower News

November 2012

Some of the latest news about the special place we call Coit Tower.


Protect Coit Tower organized a historic meeting of members of the family of Lillie Hitchcock Coit and the descendants of a Coit Tower mural artist earlier this month at Coit Tower.

Members of the Coit family had gathered in San Francisco from around the country to remember and celebrate Barbara Coit of San Francisco, a long-time champion for Coit Tower who passed away in late September.  At 12 noon on Monday, November 12th, they met at Coit Tower with relatives of one of the Coit Tower mural artists to inspect the long-awaited repairs that the city has begun to make to Coit Tower in response to the public outcry over the past year about the neglect and damage to the building and the historic art inside.  They were also treated to a fabulous tour of the Coit Tower murals by expert volunteer guide Rory O’Connor.

As reported by KCBS news, “Together they inspected some of the restoration and repairs underway of the Depression-era murals atop Telegraph Hill and came away impressed.  Ruth Gottstein was 11-years-old when her father, artist Bernard Zakheim painted her into a fresco for posterity at Coit Tower. ‘I’m the little girl in the middy-blouse down in the left hand corner, and I remember coming up to the tower while the artists were working here. You’d come in and smell the wet plaster. It was an extraordinary time,’ she said.  Gottstein was met, for the first time ever, by descendant of benefactor Lillie Coit, who left the City the money to build the tower. Coit’s great-great-great-great niece, Susie Coit Williams, said bearing the historic name is a ‘great’ responsibility.  ‘It’s almost overwhelming. I always want to make sure that I’m respectful and cognizant of what it means to everyone here,’ she said, adding that she’s thrilled to see the tower finally being fixed. ‘It’s so essential. I hope it’s here forever.’”

View a video news clip of this fabulous moment and historic meeting by clicking here:


The first phase in a year-long series of renovation and restoration work at Coit Tower is scheduled to be completed soon.  Since the scaffolding went up in late October, workers have been removing and entirely replacing the second floor roof, which a city report earlier this year identified as partially responsible for water leaks causing damage to the murals and building. 

All work is being conducted through exterior building access without the contractors hauling heavy equipment through the second floor mural rooms near fragile murals that were damaged by poorly-supervised building maintenance projects in the past.  The San Francisco Art Commission conducted an on-site mural preservation training with project workers before any of the repairs began.

The second floor roof replacement work is taking place seven days a week, between the hours of 7:00 am and 4:00 pm.  The project is scheduled to be fully completed in mid-December.

A broad range of Coit Tower building repairs and renovations is scheduled to begin in mid-March, with a completion date at the end of July.  However, it is still unclear whether the city will move forward with all – or only some – of the repairs and mural preservation actions recommended by the city’s Coit Tower Assessment Report.  Download a summary of the city’s current plans for Coit Tower restoration by clicking here:


Under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, KQED-TV will soon be launching an exciting new multi-media project to promote education and awareness about the Coit Tower murals and other New-Deal era artworks in San Francisco.  Entitled New Deal Murals of San Francisco, the KQED project will feature free iphone and smart phone apps with original audio and video walking tours containing new information and interviews with historians about the Coit Tower murals and other New Deal art around San Francisco.  

As the very first publicly funded New Deal art project, the 27 Coit Tower murals (23 frescoes and 4 oil paintings) and the 25 master artists who created them between January and June of 1934 will receive special attention and exploration as part of the KQED project.  Part of KQED’s “Let’s Get Lost” mobile storytelling program, the New Deal Murals of San Francisco will help visitors and locals alike to better explore the history of some of the city’s New Deal-era murals within the dynamic social and political context of the 1930s.  

The KQED project is now in the final stages of completion and expected to launch within the next two months.  All of us dedicated to celebrating and protecting Coit Tower for generations to come are very much looking forward to it.


CBS News: Descendants Of Coit Tower’s Namesake Inspect Restoration Efforts

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)—Descendants of Lillie Hitchcock Coit came to the San Francisco tower that bears her name on Monday to meet relatives of one of the artists who painted the murals inside. Together they inspected some of the restoration and repairs underway of the Depression-era murals atop Telegraph Hill and came away impressed.

Ruth Gottstein was 11-years-old when her father, artist Bernard Zakheim painted her into a fresco for posterity at Coit Tower.

“I’m the little girl in the mini-blouse down in the left hand corner, and I remember coming up to the tower while the artists were working here. You’d come in and smell the wet plaster. It was an extraordinary time,” she said.

Gottstein was met, for the first time ever, by descendant of benefactor Lillie Coit, who left the City the money to build the tower. Coit’s great-great-great-great niece, Susie Coit Williams, said bearing the historic name is a “great” responsibility.

“It’s almost overwhelming. I always want to make sure that I’m respectful and cognizant of what it means to everyone here,” she said, adding that she’s thrilled to see the tower finally being fixed. “It’s so essential. I hope it’s here forever.”

View the story here:


Channel 2 KTVU: Descendants of Coit Tower's namesake and muralist visit landmark

Watch the video clip here: 
As renovations get under way at San Francisco's Coit Tower, descendants of both the landmark's namesake and one of its muralists met Monday to inspect the repairs and also learn about a case of censorship that was recently found on one of the murals.

The city in May set aside $1.7 million to repair the column on top of Telegraph Hill that was funded with money left behind for civic beautification by Lillie Hitchcock Coit when she died in 1929.

The repairs were prompted by a report commissioned by the city this spring that found damage to the structure of the tower, including a leaky roof on the second floor, as well as water damage and other issues with murals that had been painted by a group of artists in 1934.

Susan Coit Williams, the great-great niece of Coit, was in town from Dallas today to survey the renovation and was joined by Ruth Gottstein, the daughter of artist Bernard Zakheim, whose mural "The Library" is featured on one of the walls inside the tower.

Coit had no children so the legacy of the tower continued through her nieces and nephews and their children.

"That's my family," Williams said. "It's very overwhelming and I always want to make sure I'm respectful and cognizant of what it means to everyone."

Gottstein, who is depicted as a young girl wearing a blue blouse in "The Library," recalled visiting the tower and smelling the wet plaster as the artists worked on the murals over a few weeks in 1934.

"It was an extraordinary time," she said. "In every way, this tower is San Francisco history."

Jon Golinger, chair of the Protect Coit Tower Committee, today also revealed that one of the murals by John Langley Howard depicting a labor march initially had a man holding a communist newspaper in the painting, but that the newspaper was later covered with paint to hide it.

Golinger said that mural and others generated controversy at the time because they "did not gloss over" the social issues of the day.

Golinger's group put an advisory measure on the June ballot that voters passed to encourage the city to limit commercial activities at Coit Tower and use more of the revenue gained from the tower on its upkeep.

He said the repairs to the roof began in the last week of October and most of the other repairs will begin in January.

Gottstein said the work will help preserve what her father and others created decades ago.

"This is truly a gift to the city and we have to protect it," she said.

Read the full story here:


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