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Coit Tower and the Bay Bridge beyond as seen from Russian Hill

COIT TOWER AND TELEGRAPH HILL

Coit Tower and the Tranamerica building from Fisherman's Wharf

In a nutshell...

Coit Tower is a much beloved art deco tower, sitting atop Telegraph Hill near the Embarcadero, North Beach and the Financial district.  For a small ticket fee, visitors can ride the elevator to the observation deck for sweeping views of the city and bay. At its base is a building housing depression era murals depicting contemporary Californian life with a leftist political subtext.

 

It has a small parking lot which surrounds a swashbuckling statue of Columbus. The parking lot is undersized given the popularity of the tower among visitors. There is often a line of cars backed up on the road to the top of the hill, just sitting and waiting for a parking space to open up. However, the #39 city bus leaves Fisherman’s Wharf every 20 minutes and carries people to the top. It is then possible to take a charming walk down the 377 Filbert steps and take the #39 bus back to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Pros:

  • Excellent views of the bay and city from the parking lot as well as the tower
  • Period murals open to public viewing free of charge

 

Cons:

  • Not enough parking
  • Dirty observation deck windows
  • The observation deck is not wheelchair accessible

 

Hours:

Mon. – Fri. 8:30 am – 5:00 pm (closed for the noon hour)

  • Sat. 10:00 am – 3:00 pm Sun. 9:00 am – 3:00 pm

Observation Deck Admission:

  • Adults $5.00
  • Seniors 65+ $4.00
  • Children 6-12 $2.00

Location:

Neighborhood: North Beach/Telegraph Hill
1 Telegraph Hill Blvd (at Greenwich St)
San Francisco, CA 94133
On bus route #39 (Fisherman’s Wharf, Washington Square)


(415) 362-0808

 


View Coit Tower in a larger map

 

Some Telegraph Hill highlights …

The Tower

The observation deck of Coit Tower

 

Completed in 1933, Coit Tower is a fluted column some 210 feet high on top of Telegraph Hill, which is itself nearly 300 feet high. It was built with money left to the city of San Francisco by self styled socialite Lillie Hitchcock Coit to honor the firemen who battled the Great San Franciscan Fire that destroyed much of the city after the 1906 earthquake.

 

Although it is built to honor the firemen, despite what most guide books will tell you, it is not built in the shape of a fire hose’s nozzle.  Although their styles are wildly different, it is interesting to note that Coit Tower and San Francisco’s City Hall were designed by the same man, Arthur Brown.

 

One does not need to ride to the top of the tower to get a great view. The view from the parking lot at the base of the tower is also excellent (although in resent years they have been allowing a hedge to grow to the point where it is starting to interfere with the view.) Because of this view, in San Francisco’s early days, a semaphore station was put on top of the hill. Spotters could then signal – or telegraph, the types of ships entering the harbor to the harbor master and the businessmen, whose livelihoods depended on knowing such things. They did this by moving masts holding flags to different angles.

 

The Filbert Steps

 

Making your way off Telegraph Hill via the stepsIf you ride the bus to the top of Telegraph Hill, a good way to get back is to take the 377 Filbert Steps down where you can then either pick up the #39 bus back to Fisherman’s Wharf, or walk over to the Embarcadero and hop on one of the vintage trolley cars. In its early years, the east side of the hill was dynamited for rock rubble for use as fill material and ballast rocks, which is why it is so steep and jagged today.

 

The neighborhood is quite charming with little houses clinging to the cliff face and accessible only by foot.  Generations ago, these were popular with starving artists, poets and bohemian types. Whether or not she fit any or none of those categories, the popular folk singer, Joan Baez, once famously lived here.

 

As you descend, keep your eyes open for a flock of wild parrots. These are decedents from a pair of pet red-masked parakeets that escaped captivity years ago. The residents estimate their number has grown to about 200.

 

The Murals

Detail of one of the murals in the rotunda at the base of Coit Tower


While the main attraction of Coit Tower is its view, there is another thing that is worth the trouble of seeing. The walls inside the rotunda, at the base of the tower, are decorated with murals inspired by the murals of Diego Rivera. It was funded by the Public Works Art Project (PWAP), a New Deal arts employment program. Some 23 local artists worked on the murals, which depict life in California of the time. There are scattered references to the labor movement and leftist politics throughout the murals. For example, one of the muralists, J. Langley Howard (his mural is the one of the dam with the homeless camp next to a river) is shown angrily crushing a newspaper in one hand as he reaches for a copy of Marx’s Das Kapital with his other hand. Also on the shelf, is a book titled Maxim Gorky (the Russian socialist realist writer) and another titled Bukarin after the Bolshevik revolutionary and Soviet Central Committee member. While the quality of the murals is uneven (some of the muralists were students from the California School of Fine Arts), in all, they makeup an interesting artistic and social artifact from the dark days of the Great Depression.

 

 

bottem of the shadow

 

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