Coit Tower, Telegraph Hill
Public Works Art Project (PWAP, part of the New Deal during the Great Depression) murals, now protected as a historical treasure, can be viewed daily inside the first floor of Coit Tower.
These Diego Rivera-inspired murals, many depicting the struggles of working class Americans, were completed in 1933-34. Rivera had recently completed two frescos in San Francisco—one, Making a Fresco, at the California School of Fine Arts (now San Francisco Art Institute) and another at the San Francisco Stock Exchange. Several of the Coit Tower artists had worked with or assisted Rivera. Another Rivera Mural,Pan American Unity a 22 by 74-foot masterpiece produced on Treasure Island for the 1940 Golden Gate International Exposition, is on display at City College of San Francisco.
The Coit Tower murals were painted during a particularly disruptive period in U.S. History. Depression related economic challenges led to much discussion about alternate forms of government. A four day general strike (Bloody Thursday) accompanied by widespread rioting in San Francisco triggered an eighty-three day 1934 West Coast Waterfront Strike.
Coit Tower muralists protested and picketed at the tower when Rivera's mural commissioned for Rockefeller Center in New York City was destroyed after he refused to change an image of Lenin in the painting.
The opening of Coit Tower and the display of its murals was delayed several months because of the controversial content of some of the paintings. Clifford Wight's mural, which contained a hammer and sickle as one of a series of medallions illustrating the range of political philosophies existing in America, was removed before the opening.
Leaders of California Life, four separate panels produced by Wight, survive. Each contains a single figure representing a surveyor, cowboy, farmer and steelworker.
Library, a public library interior mural at Coit Tower was painted by Bernard Zakheim a Polish Jew who sought political asylum in San Francisco after World War I. Zakheim helped organize the Coit Tower mural project along with Ralph Stackpole. An experienced muralist, Zakheim's scene includes portraits of fellow artists, assistants and his daughter.