Coit Tower - More Than An Observation Point… It Has Stories To Tell…

Okay are you ready? Let's trek up Telegraph Hill and stand 220 feet tall in Coit Tower.

When you're in the beautiful city of San Francisco... you absolutely must experience this one-of-a-kind icon.

Did you know it's made of simple, sleek concrete in a cylinder-like shape?

Yes it is.

Picture yourself... gazing out 360-degrees from its observation deck… at some of the most spectacular views in San Francisco like…

  • Treasure Island 
  • Oakland-Bay Bridge 
  • Russian Hill 
  • Financial District 
  • Lombard Street… and
  • Nob Hill

Now... imagine… back in the early 1900's… taking 5 years to build this tower.

Do you know why Coit Tower was built?

Coit Tower in San Francisco

It was built as a legacy to Lillie Hitchcock Coit to beautify the city.

You see… prior to December 1866, there was no local fire department, and fires in the city broke out regularly in all those wooden buildings.
 
During that time… several volunteer fire companies did their best to extinguish the fires and keep everyone safe.

Lillie - a wealthy socialite - developed a special relationship with the firefighters of the city after being rescued from a fire when she was just a small child.
 
At the age of fifteen she witnessed the Knickerbocker Engine Co. No. 5 in response to a fire call up on Telegraph Hill.
 
When they were shorthanded, Lillie threw her school books to the ground and pitched in to help…  calling out to other bystanders to help get the engine up the hill to the fire, to get the first water onto the blaze.
 
After that she became the Engine Company mascot and could barely be constrained by her parents from jumping into action at the sound of every fire bell.

As an adult… she was one of the more eccentric characters of San Francisco… with a very colorful background. Like…smoking cigars, gambling avidly and living roughly.

The fact that she came from money and married into more of it helped make her behavior more acceptable to others.

In addition to honoring the firefighters, Lillie wanted the area to serve as a beautiful spot for viewing the city that she so loved.

So… following her death in 1929, she bequeathed one-third of her estate, roughly $118,000 to beautify the city.

That's roughly $1,641,649.00 in today's dollars.

The money was used to build the Tower and a monument to volunteer firefighters that stands in Washington Square Park.

So… What are the Murals of Coit Tower?

When you enter the tower, you will see a beautiful set of murals that explore and explain the history of the area.
 
Depicting many of the struggles that working class people experienced during that time.

Like… one painting of a crowd scene in downtown San Francisco.
 
In the forefront a man… getting held up by some hooligans, while in the background… a car accident.
 
A postman…picking up the mail. Pedestrians rushing about… a mixture of rich society people… sailors… longshoremen… and blue collar workers.
 
There are paintings showcasing various industries… like…

  • Railroad and Shipping
  • Steelworkers
  • Farmers working with their hands… packing… canning… and more
  • City life during that time… and so much more…

Each of the paintings seen in the tower are protected by the Public Works Art Project.

You see… when these murals were first unveiled to the public in 1934… there was talk that they might be too controversial… due to their themes of banned literature… crime problems… and political viewpoints.
 
But… they were allowed to be displayed… and now are a wonderful window into the past for each of us to admire.

So you see… Coit Tower is more than an observation point…

It tells a story. A story of what life was like in the Bay Area and throughout California during the early 1900's.

If you love learning about the history of the Bay Area and stories of the firemen… we recommend trekking up - or riding - to Coit Tower and spending some time going back in time.

What are you waiting for… Let's go!


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