Restored, renovated Coit Tower unveiled 

Dignitaries gathered and cut the ribbon for Coit Tower to a band's rendition of "I Love You California," the same tune that serenaded the San Francisco landmark at its grand opening in 1933.

Its grand reopening Wednesday revealed the restoration brought it as close to its original state as The City could.

"They really, finally did it right," said Pete Arnautoff, 62, grandson of the muralist who created the famous "City Life," after the ceremony.

The most extensive building and mural restoration in the tower's 81-year history started in November, breathing new life into the building that for years had cracks, water-damaged murals and peeling ceiling paint. The $1.7 million project replaced the mezzanine and rooftop ceilings, restored murals, wired the tower with a new electrical system and made it accessible for people with disabilities.

Conservators, the same team behind smaller restorations in the past, painstakingly retouched the works of art and framed them with a strip of paint along the ceiling, making the vibrant colors pop even more.

Even Jon Golinger, chairman of Protect Coit Tower, a group that criticized some of The City's processes leading up to the restoration, admitted, "It looks like every bit of damage has been fixed."

Signage was added to give visitors context around the murals, when in the past only tours informed them of the rich history.

"It's a good step forward to bringing it to a museum caliber," said Tom DeCaigny, director of cultural affairs for the San Francisco Arts Commission.

The gift shop, once a cluttering of generic San Francisco paraphernalia, also had a makeover, newly stocked with products unique to Coit Tower and North Beach businesses.

Perhaps the only piece the vendor, Terry Grimm, saw missing was a refreshments kiosk, something The City has ruled out for now. Grimm said he will go to the commission in the next year and pitch a stand for sandwiches or other light food items.

"We're probably the only national monument in the U.S. that you can't get a bottle of water from," he said. "Eighty percent walk up to the tower and I'm sure they would like refreshments."

The renovation process was long and involved, Recreation and Park Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg said.

"But we got through it," he said, "And I think we've done absolutely right by Lillie Coit and by San Francisco."

Mayor Ed Lee said the tower is a reminder of The City's Depression era as well as its diversity.

"We need to deliver those stories over and over again," he said.

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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