Sunday, October 7

Coit Tower

Coit Tower was not exactly what I expected; mostly because I really had no clue what it was prior to visiting. Neither Alexae or I had ever been there, so we decided to do something touristy and check it out. We walked up one of San Francisco's famously steep hills and climbed the stairs to the top, where we found that there was a parking lot at the base of the tower. Oh well, we're young and our legs still work, so no biggie. From where we arrived we could see a sculpture in the center of the parking lot, but we started our visit by walking around the bottom level of the tower and looking at the murals; they were painted in the 1930s as part of The Public Works of Art Project. This is one of the typical scenes; I like it because it's very California.
This scene made me laugh, though I'm sure in the 1930s it was a far too accurate depiction of city life.
This handsome gentleman is from the library scene; it made both of us laugh when we noticed his expression, but now that I know that the artist modeled his subjects after people he knew I think it's even more hilarious.
There was a little display that paid tribute to Lillie Coit, the namesake of the tower. I hate to say it, but the display didn't really do her justice. There is so much about her that I didn't know until today when I did a little research. I thought this was a cleaver little costume she was wearing in this photo, but now I know that she had a serious obsession with firefighters.
Born Elizabeth Wyche Hitchcock, Lillie moved to San Francisco with her family in 1851. Soon after her arrival, she developed a love for the volunteer fire department, specifically for the Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 5. Several years later when she was 15, she earned her place with the fire department when she led bystanders to help pull a struggling Knickbocker Engine No. 5 up Telegraph Hill to beat all other engine companies to a fire and was adopted as the company's mascot. Becoming well known in the city for rushing out to every fire and for taking care of the city's firefighters, she was named an honorary member of Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 5 on October 3, 1863. In 1869 she married businessman Howard Coit, but the couple separated in 1880 and the marriage officially ended with Howard's death in 1885. Following her death, she left one third of her fortune to the city of San Francisco for beautification. The money was used for the construction of Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill and for a statue in honor of the volunteer fire department in Washington Square.
In fact, it is theorized that the tower is intended to look like the nozzle of a fire hose, though no one has definitively proven that. This is the view from the top of the tower. There really isn't anything at the top except windows, which are somewhat sealed, but visitors squeeze coins from various countries through the cracks, so the ledges are lined with interesting currency.
After we viewed the city from above we made our way to the parking lot to see the sculpture. Carefully reading the description we both made a disgusted sound, Christopher Columbus...dressed like Robin Hood and shown with the features of the Native Americans he helped to destroy. Was this Lillie Coit's visual choice? As it turns out it was not her choice; the sculpture was created by Vittorio di Colbertaldoin in 1957, twenty eight years after Lillie Coit's death, after being commissioned by the Arts Commission of San Francisco. I found this historic image of the sculpture on ebay; the image of the description on the back is pretty cool.
It's hard to find any real explanation for the sculpture anywhere other than "Italian Pride;" which was apparently Colbertaldoin's favorite artistic theme. His other sculptures tend to look more like the one below though. Perhaps the style of Robin Hood/Columbus was requested in his commission.

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