Top 10 Captivating Coit Tower Facts

You will hardly find a captivating tower located in a better position than this one in California. Let’s take a closer look at some interesting Coit Tower facts, one of the most amazing landmarks in San Francisco!

1. It’s situated in a park on top of a hill in San Francisco

Coit Tower is a fascinating observation tower located in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. This is one of San Francisco’s 44 hills and one of the “7 original hills” of the city.

This means that it’s situated relatively close to the city’s historical center and other historical and famous landmarks in the city such as the Transamerica Pyramid and the Ferry Building are located just to the south of it.

The top of the hill features a public park called “Pioneer Park.” This park covers an area of 4.89 acres (19,800 square meters) and was officially opened in the year 1876. This means it’s much older than the tower which was completed in the early 1930s.

telegraph hill coit tower
Telegraph Hill / Pixabay

2. The tower isn’t that high but offers stunning views of SF

The tower only stands 210 feet (64 meters) high and the observation deck is located about 32 feet (9.8 meters) below the top of it. This means that within the city, it wouldn’t be possible for this tower to serve its purpose as an observation platform.

Because it’s located right on top of a hill that rises 285 feet (87 meters) above sea level, it provides astounding views of the city and Bay Area, and especially at night!

Coit tower view at night
View at night / KennyOMG / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

3. The area used to have a different purpose in the 19th century

This small hill, which is situated right in between Alcatraz Island and the Bay Bridge, has been recognized as an important lookout point all throughout the history of San Francisco. The Spaniards who arrived in the city referred to it as “Loma Alta” or “High Hill.

That’s why it has been described as “the best 360 degree viewing point to the San Francisco Bay and five surrounding counties.”

By 1849, a two-story viewing platform was constructed on the site in order to provide residents of the city with information about incoming ships. The visual signals were quickly replaced with an electronic system in 1853.

After this setup was destroyed by a severe storm in 1876, an observation deck and bar were built on the site which had the shape of a German castle. Shortly after this unsuccessful venture was closed in the early 1900s after being destroyed by fire, the city put in efforts to preserve the land.

Coit tower telegraph hill
The tower and surrounding area / Pixabay

4. It was built with the money of a rich SF socialite

The public park was left untouched for several decades, until rich SF socialite Lillie Hitchcock Coit (1843-1929), an eccentric figure in the city who was the patroness of the volunteer firefighters, passed away in 1924.

She left the city $118,000, a more than handsome amount of money at the time, with the request of using it to “add to the beauty of the city which I have always loved.”

The original plan was to improve the road infrastructure around Lake Merced, a freshwater lake in the southwest corner of San Francisco. This plan was shelved because the bequest was supposed to be used for a monument, not for enhancing public development, so the tower was built using the money.

Lillie Hitchcock
Lillie Hitchcock Coit in 1862 / Wiki Commons

5. The tower wasn’t the only monument built with her money

One of the most remarkable Coit Tower facts is that Lillie Hitchcock Coit was more than merely a patroness of the San Francisco firefighters, she was actively involved in putting out fires around the city as well!

She got involved with the firefighters of the city since she was 15 and her nickname was “Firebelle Lil.” She was also one of the most prominent members of the group whenever there was a parade, having been considered to be the firefighter’s mascot since she was a teenager.

That’s why the bequest was partially used for a monument dedicated to her ultimate purpose, a sculpture depicting 3 firemen who are holding a woman. This sculpture can be found nearby in Washington Square Park.

Coit firemen statue
Volunteer Firemen Memorial / Wiki Commons

6. It was dedicated to 5 tragic events in the city’s history

Apart from the sculpture, which specifically depicts firefighters, Coit Tower is also sometimes referred to as the “Coit Memorial Tower.”

The reason is that the tower was dedicated in honor of the volunteer firemen who lost their lives during the 5 great fires in San Francisco.

This fascinating landmark has also been designated as a San Francisco Designated Landmark in 1984 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.

Coit tower fun facts
The tower at sunset / Chad1616 / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

7. The structure was designed by a renowned SF architect

The construction of the tower started in 1933, 4 years after Lillie Hitchcock Coit passed away, and completed in 1934. The design was chosen through an architectural competition and some of the most renowned architects of the time submitted their proposals.

The winner as one of the most famous architects in San Francisco’s history, Arthur Brown Jr. (1874-1957) along with his colleague Henry Howard. Brown has designed some of the most famous landmarks in the city, including the War Memorial Opera House and the magnificent San Francisco City Hall.

Coit Tower ended up much simpler in design as the Art-Deco structure features 3 concrete cylinders, a fluted shaft, and an arcade with arches at the top.

San francisco city hall
San Francisco City Hall / Pixabay

8. The original design featured a restaurant inside the tower

The original design of Brown featured a restaurant on the ground level of the tower. This plan was eventually not followed and an exhibition area was installed in this space instead.

This exhibition area in the form of a rotunda now serves as the tower’s lobby and as a display space and also features a giftshop.

coit tower ground floor
Ground floor of the tower / Carline Culler / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

9. The controversial statue of Columbus was removed in May 2020

One of the most interesting Coit Tower facts is that a statue of Columbus has decorated the area in front of it ever since 1957. This statue was donated to the city by the Italian-American community.

It was sculpted by Count Vittorio di Colbertaldo of Verona, a man who served as one of Benito Mussolini’s personal bodyguards referred to as the “Black Musketeers.”

Therefore, this statue has always been extremely controversial and was finally removed during the 2020 Pandemic and more specifically, the “George Floyd protests,” a period followed by the removal of numerous controversial statues all across the country.

Columbus statue coit tower 2015
The Columbus statue in 2015 / Wiki Commons

10. The interior of the tower features American Social Realism murals

Even though the tower serves its main purpose as an amazing observation deck to get astounding views of San Francisco, its interior is equally fascinating.

The tower was built during the Great Depression, a period in which the government started a plan to employ artists referred to as the “Public Works of Art Project.” One of the pilot programs involved creating frescoes inside the Coit Tower.

A total of 25 artists were each assigned a space to create a magnificent piece of art in the American Social Realism style and the results are pretty amazing!

Coit Tower mural
Mural inside the Coit Tower / Wiki Commons