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The History and Legacy of San Francisco's Coit Tower

Perched atop Telegraph Hill, commanding an unparalleled view of San Francisco, stands the iconic Coit Tower. This Art Deco monument, with its rich history and fascinating anecdotes, has been a beloved symbol of the city since its construction in the early 1930s.

You can hear more San Francisco and Bay Area stories with Gesso’s self-guided audio walking tours, which you can experience at your own pace.

murals of coit tower san francisco

The story of Coit Tower begins with its eccentric benefactor, Lillie Hitchcock Coit. An affluent socialite with a fascination for firefighting, Lillie was known for her unconventional behavior in an era defined by strict social norms. She was an honorary member of the Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 5 and had a habit of rushing to fires. When Lillie passed away in 1929, she left a considerable portion of her estate "for the purpose of adding to the beauty of the city which I have always loved." The Coit Tower was built with these funds.

Despite common folklore that the tower was designed to resemble a fire hose nozzle in honor of Lillie's affinity for firefighters, it was actually architect Arthur Brown Jr.'s interpretation of Lillie's desire to beautify the city. The slender, fluted tower, built of unpainted, reinforced concrete, offers an Art Deco design, a modern and progressive style for its time, reflective of the era's spirit of innovation and optimism.

Completed in 1933, amidst the Great Depression, the Coit Tower became more than just a beautiful monument. Inside the tower's base is an extraordinary collection of murals, painted by a team of artists funded by the Public Works of Art Project, a precursor to the Works Progress Administration (WPA). These murals provide a glimpse into the social and political climate of the era. They depict scenes of Californian labor and life, including farms, factories, and vibrant cityscapes.

Over the years, the Coit Tower has weathered earthquakes and has served as a beacon for ships entering the Bay. It has been the subject of countless photographs and the backdrop for numerous movie scenes. Its 360-degree observation deck provides one of the most breathtaking views of the city and the surrounding bay.

A lesser-known tale about the Coit Tower is the story of its resident parrots. A flock of wild parrots, thought to have descended from escaped or released pets, call Telegraph Hill and the area around the Coit Tower home. These parrots have become local celebrities in their own right, adding to the unique charm and appeal of the Coit Tower.

Discover more local history with our San Francisco and Bay Area audio walking tours, and see which nearby SF neighborhoods you want to explore next.


Gesso was created for urban explorers who find joy in life's hidden gems. Find audio tours on the Gesso app, available via the App Store or Google Play, and share your San Francisco adventures with us on Instagram.


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