Coit Tower, the 1933 Art Deco marvel, was built with funds that Lillie Hitchcock Coit bequested to the City of San Francisco. The monolithic structure stands atop Telegraph Hill in Pioneer Park. Designed by architects Arthur Brown, Jr. and Henry Howard, the 210-foot tower is made of unpainted reinforced concrete. The building's interior murals were the first intiative of The Public Works of Art Project, a New Deal program to employ artists during the Great Depression.
Surveying the land.
The 26 murals were painted in various mediums, including fresco, egg tempura and oil on canvas. Among the 26 artists selected to work on the project were Victor Arnautoff, Bernard Zakheim, John Langley Howard, Ray Boynton, Ralph Stackpole, Jose Moya del Pino, Otis Oldfield, Jane Berlandina and William Hesthal. In the spring of 1934, while the muralists painted, a strike shut down the Pacific Coast. Unemployed longshoremen and their union threatened to strike; by early summer they had brought waterfront commerce to a halt. Artists included subtle references to the event in some murals.
The Coit Tower project was considered controversial because of Mexican artist Diego Rivera's influence over some artists and the city's determination to separate politics from publicly-sponsored art projects. When the murals were completed, members of the San Francisco establishment were dismayed by the work's political content. The San Francisco Art Commision even delayed the opening of Coit Tower, while considering destroying the murals. After much debate, the tower was finally opened to the public - murals intact - in October 1934.
Conducting scientific experiments. Click photos to enlarge and view detail.
Panning for gold following the California Gold Rush.
In this portrait, notice the well-dressed people in the background, hoping to profit from others' hard manual labour.
Various flowers, including calla lilies vyed with oranges for crops grown in Bay Area fields.
California oranges grown in the Central Valley.
Gathering the harvest at area farms.
Picking grapes from the vineyards.
Baking San Francisco sourdough bread.
Producing milk for sale to area markets.
Milking the cows at a local dairy.
An abatoir and meat-packing plant.
A butcher's shop.
Moving cash at a city bank, with armed guards standing watch.
Reading the news - a public library's reading room and a private one at a toney gentlemen's club.
Scenes from a typical city rush hour, including a traffic accident in the upper left of the mural. At the newstand, one of the headlines screams "Police robbed; accuse Dillinger." In the forefront, a businessman is being held up by two armed men.
Popular transport methods included the ferry to Oakland.
A soda fountain and lunch counter for office workers.
A grocer's selling wine.
The working press.
Stop the presses! San Francisco labor relations were a main focus of the day. Some headlines feature news about the artists' murals painted in Coit Tower. In this mural, the bookshelves contain socialist tomes by Karl Marx, as well as Hebrew texts. At the time of their creation, scenes such as this were considered controversial, due to thinly-veiled political statements in the artwork.
Working class men lined up for work. This mural refers to often-difficult social and economic conditions for the working class following the Great Depression. Unemployment was high and wages low, for those lucky enough to find jobs. Long strikes in 1934 made it difficult for many families to make ends meet.
Keeping steam trains running and laying miles of railroad tracks.
This is the third in a series of pieces about San Francisco.