San Francisco’s Coit Tower Murals

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

Coit Tower in San Francisco is a tourist must-see when visiting that city. The view from the top of Telegraph Hill is amazing. To me, the best part of the tower is the mural-filled lobby, which is a kind of time capsule of California life and culture around 1933, as interpreted by the 26 artists who contributed to this WPA project.

Above, the front page of the Chronicle announces the completion of the murals. Notice the headline that says “Artists Work in Harmony.” There are lots of details like this in the murals that show a good deal of editorializing, which make examining the murals such a fascinating experience. Here is a nonlinear, non-comprehensive look at the murals.

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

Look, Linotype operators do their thing:

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

The various newspaper headlines are probably the most telling elements [see “Destruction of Rivera Fresco”]:

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

City life is dangerous:

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

This man is photographing a gigantic boy:

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

We didn’t go up to the top of the tower. Instead, we took a free City Guides tour of the murals in the lobby. Our guide was a first-timer and didn’t offer much insight beyond the already-informative didactics [you can enter the lobby and view the murals for free anytime the tower is open]. However, he took us up the stairs to the second floor, which is not normally open to the public:

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

On the second floor is a small room with these murals devoted to drawing room culture, painted in a very different style, and done on wallpaper, not as frescoes. The woman who painted this part was the wife of the Coit Tower architect, who did not want to follow the themes established for the mural project, and also did not want to come here and paint in person:

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

San Francisco's Coit Tower mural

City Guides offers a ton of guided tours of varied SF sights. Some offer glimpses into areas not open to the public, like this one did. And they’re all free! If you do decide to check out Coit Tower, don’t forget the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill. And, if you get thirsty, you can get your drinking water from a fountain made in Cincinnati:

Murdock drinking fountain in front of Coit Tower
Murdock drinking fountain in front of Coit Tower

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8 thoughts on “San Francisco’s Coit Tower Murals

  1. It amazes me that a mural that intentionally captures the specifics of a time can be so relevant today. It serves as more than documentation of a time and place. Part of it is coincidence, but somehow the self referential aspects and the cumulative narrative is, like any good story, universal and timeless.

    San Francisco’s murals, from its historical roots to its current branches diverse as they are, adds a layer of experience that makes the cities fragments a whole.

    Murals are everywhere; alleys, brand new developments, historic landmarks, residential buildings, stores, vacant lots… with just as many styles.

    Somehow what would be slightly offensive elsewhere works to make a cohesive visual narrative of the city and its environs.

  2. I’ve lived in SF for three years but just discovered these murals yesterday, when we brought a visitor to Coit Tower. They are beautiful as Depression-era history and also as beautiful detail-filled paintings of a particular time and place. Walking around the lobby feels like being in the middle of a storybook, with larger-than-life illustrations surrounding you from floor to ceiling. Thank you for posting so many great pictures and the accompanying info.

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