Mike Koozmin/2012 S.F. Examiner file photoCoit Tower will close its doors from November to mid-April for a rehabilitation project intended to make it more water resistant. Restoration work for the tower’s historic murals is expected in the spring.

Coit Tower to close for $1M overhaul

The City’s iconic Coit Tower will only get admired from the outside for the next several months while it undergoes the most extensive effort to repair water leakage since it first opened 80 years ago.

With a $1.1 million contract that Recreation and Park Commission members awarded to Anvil Builders Inc. on Thursday, the San Francisco landmark is set to close from mid-November through mid-April for work aimed at making it as watertight as possible.

“This is the largest and most extensive renovation we’ve undertaken at the tower,” said Sarah Ballard, a spokeswoman for Rec and Park.

Built of a porous material and completed in 1933, the tower was not originally designed to house the interior murals, which were commissioned under New Deal employment programs and are now an important part of its fame. Aside from occasional leaks, the building absorbs moisture like a sponge. Murals have suffered water damage that leaves behind salt deposits.

A renovation project in 1989 addressed some cracks to the broken stucco and involved mural paint repairs, but preventative measures were lacking, said Jon Golinger, chairman of Protect Coit Tower, which formed a couple of years ago to push for improvements.

“Coit Tower does not need a facelift; it needs full-body rehabilitation,” he said. “Because if you just put make-up, within one to two years, you’ll see many of the same problems again.”

While pleased with the long-awaited upgrade project, Golinger asked commissioners to set an opening date for the tower, noting that repairs to the roof that were supposed to take two months last year ran four months over.

But project manager Toks Ajike said having a reopening deadline is not a necessity.

“It’s important that we do it right,” Ajike said. “We’re aware that we need to open it as soon as possible, so we’ll keep a balance.”

Though comprehensive, the renovations take care of only 60 to 70 percent of the dozens of items outlined in a condition assessment report released last year, according to Golinger. When all conditions are met, the tower will be as water resistant as any 80-year-old building can be, he said.

“We would like the city to outline what the cost is of finishing the job because there is some private money we can raise,” Golinger said.

Mural restoration work through the Arts Commission is scheduled to take place in the spring and may continue through the tower’s reopening, said commission spokeswoman Kate Patterson.

Regarding the tower’s closure to the general public, Golinger said: “We are working to come up with a volunteer operation, maybe a table out there, so people get a taste of Coit Tower even if they don’t get to go inside.”

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