Discover the Adventure
San Francisco's Coit Tower

Coit Tower: Some Say It Looks Like a Fire Hose Nozzle; What Do You Think?

Some people believe that Coit Tower, given to the people of The City by Lillie Hitchcock Coit, looks like the business end of a fireman's hose. Take a look at the photo below - what do you think?

The other question is, was that what Lillie had in mind when she commissioned that the tower be built on Telegraph Hill for the people of San Francisco?

210 feet high, this San Francisco landmark sits atop Telegraph Hill, a quiet residential neighborhood of gardens and private cottages, which also plays  host to San Francisco's original feral parrot population.

A Little Coit Tower History

Lillie Hitchcock Coit's Tower; CC Steve ParkerLillie Hitchcock Coit's Tower;
CC Steve Parker

Telegraph Hill received its name in 1849 when a semaphore was erected on the hill.

The purpose of the semaphore was to signal The City about approaching ships.

When merchants and financiers knew the nature of the approaching ship and its cargo, they could take financial advantage of that information.

Commissioned by Lillie Hitchcock Coit - a well-known if eccentric North Beach neighborhood character - to beautify the city of San Francisco, Coit Tower is an iconic San Francisco attraction.

Its art deco design is said by some to resemble the nozzle of a fire hose because Lillie (or Firebell Lil, as she was called) had a life-long fascination with firefighting and firemen.

Lil fought her first fire at the age of 14 when she saw the short-handed crew of Knickerbocker Engine Co. No. 5 struggling to get their engine up the steep road of Telegraph Hill. She dropped her school books and ran over to help push, calling to other onlookers to jump in as well.

After that, she was hooked and could frequently be seen in the company of the firefighting crews, fighting the fires alongside them and promoting their causes. Which is why so many people have associated Coit Tower with fire hoses - urban myth has it that Lillie built the tower to honor her red-shirted, helmeted friends.

Lillie and her architects, Arthur Brown, Jr., and Henry Howard, always claimed the resemblance to a fire hose nozzle was merely a coincidence, and that the tower was designed to beautify The City that Lillie loved, but the legend persists with good reason. Firebell Lil also commissioned another neighborhood landmark - the Statue of Three Firefighters at the NW corner of Washington Square Park.

Lil was quite the character in other ways as well - she smoked cigars, wore trousers, and gambled in the local gambling halls disguised as a man because they were men-only establishments.

Built on the former site of the first West Coast telegraph line, the
interior tower walls are decorated with intricate murals commissioned by the Public Works Art Project during the Great Depression.

Inspired by Diego Rivera, the murals depict Depression-era topics and socialistic political views. The figures are strong and the subject matter is stronger, transporting you back to the United States of the 1930s - a history lesson pictorial!

Things To Do on Your Next Visit to Coit Tower and Telegraph Hill

  • Enjoy the stunning views of The City from the top of the hill...
  • Study the murals in the main lobby, which are open to the general public, free of charge...
  • Visit the gift shop, also on the main floor...
  • Take a City Guide tour to see the murals that aren't open to the public. City Guide Tours are the best thing going in San Francisco - they're free and they are amazing!
  • Climb the stairs - or take the elevator - to the top observation deck for even more striking panoramas
  • Enjoy a leisurely stroll down the Filbert Street steps to Montgomery Street below, strolling through the exquisite gardens and past the little cottages along the way - and don't forget to look up as you go; you may just catch a glimpse of the feral parrots that forage there!

The parrots are descendants of Red-masked Parakeets from Peru and
Ecuador that most likely escaped their cages or were released by owners who didn't want them anymore. The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill are actually found throughout the North waterfront area of San Francisco.

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