Coit Tower murals fading away

Thousands of visitors trudge by the murals that ring the inside of Coit Tower each year as they head to the elevator to go to the top of the historical structure.

If they stopped to look closely at the frescos, however, they might see scratches in the paint or the grime that has built up over the years.

“There are no barriers in front of them and people can touch them. … If they were hanging in a museum somewhere, they wouldn’t need to be preserved,” said Senior Registrar Allison Cummings of the San Francisco Arts Commission.

It has been 15 years since the 27 murals from 1934 were touched up, and city agencies are looking for the money to do the needed work on the historical paintings.

The work by the 26 artists under the theme “Aspects of California Life” is widely considered to be a precursor to the Works Progress Administration era that created about 8 million jobs for public projects through federal money.

An icon of the New Deal, the murals were inspired by famed Mexican painter Diego Rivera, husband of renowned painter Frida Kahlo, and the true frescos are “priceless in nature,” Cummings said.

The story of the paintings includes left-wing imagery such as the slogan “Workers of the World Unite” being censored, and delays in the tower’s opening for months after an infamous labor strike over low wages that resulted in riots and the death of two strikers at the hands of police.

The left half of “City Life” includes a traffic accident, armed robbery and leftist newspapers and was painted by Victor Mikhail Arnautoff, who had worked as an assistant to Rivera. The piece was one of the most controversial murals at the time.

The Recreation and Park Department owns Coit Tower, which is perched on Telegraph Hill and overlooks the Bay and nearby North Beach. The agency is working with the Arts Commission to find funds for the restoration work. The agency said it was too early in the process to put a price tag on the restoration.

“We want to make sure that the murals are around for a long time,” Arts Commission spokeswoman Kate Patterson said. “This is a multiyear process, and we’re just kind of at the beginning.”

Murals on the walls of the Golden Gate Park Visitor’s Center, which is below the Beach Chalet restaurant, are from the same time period. About five years ago, the paintings there underwent a $2 million conservation project when the whole building was renovated.

kkelkar@sfexaminer.com

Bay Area NewsCoit TowerLocalSan Francisco

Just Posted

San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler, pictured in July at Oracle Park, says team members simultaneously can be “measured and calm” and “looking to push the accelerator.” (Chris Victorio/Special to The Examiner)
How Gabe Kapler sets the tone for Giants’ success with strategy, mindset

‘There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s the hands-down manager of the year’

Artist Agnieszka Pilat, pictured with Spot the Robot Dog from Boston Robotics, has a gallery show opening at Modernism. (Courtesy Agnieszka Pilat)
Screenshots of VCs, Kanye and tech parties by the Bay

In this week’s roundup, Ben Horowitz’s surprising hip-hop knowledge and the chic tech crowd at Shack15

If he secured a full term in the Senate, Newsom would become the most powerful Californian Democrat since Phil Burton at the height of his career, or maybe ever. <ins>(Kevin Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
Firefighters extinguish burning material near Lake Tahoe on Sept. 3 in the wake of the Caldor Fire; environmental scientists say the huge fire is bringing to light deficiencies in forest management. <ins>(Max Whittaker/New York Times)</ins>
Cal Fire, timber industry must face an inconvenient truth

We are logging further into the wildfire and climate crisis

Speaker of the Parliament of Mongolia Gombojav Zandanshatar said his country and San Francisco face similar challenges on issues including COVID recovery and climate change.<ins> (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
Mongolian leaders meet with tech, film leaders on city tour

‘I really want San Franciscans to meet the new Mongolian generation’

Most Read