Reopening of Coit Tower pushed back to mid-May

Mural conservators and construction workers behind Coit Tower’s most comprehensive makeover are taking a few more weeks than originally planned to wrap up work and reopen the historic landmark.

Recreation and Park Department officials announced in March that the tower would reopen mid- to late April. On Wednesday, they said the grand reopening is being scheduled for mid-May, and reiterated a firm completion date had never been set.

“We always knew because of the delicacy of doing this work, it’s imperative that we don’t rush and imperative that we do everything right,” said Toks Ajike, capital project manager for the department. “We wanted to make sure all the repairs are done in a very systematic way, that we’re not cutting corners.”

As a whole, the $1.7 million renovation project that began in November is 90 to 92 percent complete, Ajike said. Last-minute touch-up work includes installing lighting fixtures inside the mezzanine level, waterproofing some of the exterior and minor paint work in the interior.

Restoration of the Depression-era murals is 80 percent complete, according to Allison Cummings, senior registrar for the civic art collection of the San Francisco Arts Commission. The meticulous in-painting and removal of white mineral salts that formed on the murals from moisture penetration have been taken care of, and all that remains to be done on the first floor is paint the bottom edges near the tile.

“We had always allowed for the conservation [work] to continue up until and into the opening of the building,” Cummings said. The team of three conservators and their assistant will move to the second floor by next week, and finish that level in the next two to three weeks.

The tower could have opened earlier, “but it’s really much easier on the conservators to not have people around,” added David Wessel, principal with ARG Conservation Services, responsible for the mural restoration, and Architectural Resources Group, the architects for the exterior restoration.

The tower itself has a history of delay. It was supposed to open in July 1934 but didn’t begin welcoming visitors until that October, due to criticism of the murals as pro-Communist.

Jon Golinger, chairman of Protect Coit Tower, which has in the past been critical of The City’s handling of the tower, said his group has little problem with the delay and are most concerned that the work get done right.

However, Golinger said he would appreciate a firm reopening date.

“Our fingers are crossed that everything will open before too long,” Golinger said, “and people will get to see Coit Tower again in all its glory.”

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