SAN FRANCISCO – San Francisco’s iconic Coit Tower will turn 85 on Monday with extra reason to celebrate: it has been named a “nationally significant” historic place on the National Register of Historic Places.
The National Register is the official list of buildings, districts and objects worthy of preservation. Established as part of the National Historical Preservation Act of 1966, it is overseen by the National Park Service.
“Coit Tower has been an emblem of San Francisco’s skyline for 85 years, and its beautiful murals portray what life was like for San Franciscans trying to make a living during the Great Depression. Both are woven into the history and landscape of our city,” said Phil Ginsburg, general manager of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department. “We are proud to support public works of art and give these historic murals and their artists the recognition they deserve – at the national level.”
Coit Tower’s murals earned its spot on the list with the help of neighborhood committee Protect Coit Tower and the SF Arts Commission.
Now, Protect Coit Tower and a coalition of artists and relatives of the Coit Tower muralists, civic associations, and historic preservation advocates are working to elevate Coit Tower to the highest status of a “National Historic Landmark.” Of more than 90,000 places listed on the country’s National Register of Historic Places, only 2,500 are recognized as National Historic Landmarks, including Alcatraz.
A majestic fluted white column rising from the top of Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower was built at the bequest of Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a true San Francisco character and devoted patron of the city’s firefighters. Since its completion in 1933, the tower has been welcoming visitors and residents to marvel at the 360-degree views of the City and the Bay offered by the Tower’s observation deck. Its frescos were painted in 1934 by a diverse group of artists employed by the Public Works of Art Project, a precursor to the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
“Coit Tower and the 27 murals housed within are among San Francisco’s most glorious treasures,” said San Francisco Arts Commission Director of Cultural Affairs Tom DeCaigny. “As the prototype for the Works Progress Administration program and San Francisco’s own public art program, the Coit Tower murals were at the vanguard 85 years ago and their imagery still resonates today. No matter how many times one visits the murals, there is always something new to discover and to learn about our city and about our humanity. Thank you to Lillie Hitchcock Coit for the gift that keeps on giving.”
The push for National Historic Landmark status will give proper recognition to the murals and artists who created them. It also recognizes the historical significance of the nation’s first federal art program, conceived as part of the New Deal, and which ultimately employed millions of people to carry out public works projects across the country, including construction of public buildings and roads.
To celebrate the 85th birthday of Coit Tower, Canessa Gallery in North Beach is displaying ‘Coit Tower Artists-in-Action Photo Exhibit’ through the month of October. This exhibit focuses on the 25 Coit Tower mural artists, featuring rare photographs of each artist along with revealing life stories and examples of their work. Many–including Ralph Stackpole, Victor Arnautoff, Mallette Dean, Maxine Albro, Lucien Labaudt, Edith Hamlin, and Bernard Zakheim — went on to create other significant artworks throughout the Bay Area and beyond. While you’re there, check out the Fireman’s Memorial in Washington Square Park, another gift to the City from the famous Lillie Hitchcock Coit.