12/09/2011 03:24 pm ET

Protect Coit Tower Committe Fights What They See As Historic Monument's Privitization

While the San Francisco Chronicle isn't all that impressed with the view from the top of Coit Tower, we'd have to disagree. The impressive panorama that can be seen from the viewing deck of the nearly 80-year old landmark is a treasure and the gorgeous Depression-era murals decorating its base are icing on the cake.

A local neighborhood group, the Protect Coit Tower Committee, also loves the monument and is going to extreme lengths to show it. The organization is looking to get a measure placed on next June's ballot to strictly limit what the Recreation and Parks Department would be able to do with the historic, 210 foot tall building.

At issue is the department's plan to hire a vendor to manage the tower's facilities, including the elevators, snack bar and gift shop. Even though the department wants the vendor to avoid harming the murals, will use one percent of the rent paid by the operator toward their restoration and, in coordination with the city's Arts Commission, will spend another $250,000 on upkeep, the group says this proposal does an insufficient job of protecting the artwork. They also argue the department's requirement that the vendor be open to hosting private events violates the spirit in which both the murals and the monument itself were created.

"Clearly, Coit Tower is being looked at as a marketing opportunity, not as an opportunity for stewardship," committee president Jon Golinger told the San Francisco Chronicle. "The city's role for Coit Tower is stewarding an incredibly valuable historic and iconic resource--not an opportunity to generate revenue for unknown programs."

Bay City News reports:

In the last fiscal year, San Francisco received more than $909,000 from elevator fees and various concessions at the tower, according to the city.

But Golinger said the city has not used that money on the tower, instead letting it and the surrounding area fall into disrepair.

San Francisco Arts Democratic Club president Deborah Walker agrees. "Much more needs to be done to protect and celebrate the amazing Coit Tower murals," the former District 6 Supervisor candidate told SF Weekly. "And there is also such a great opportunity at Coit Tower to promote local artists rather than sell the same old souvenirs people can get anywhere else."

The Bay Citizen reports that under Rec and Park's current Request For Proposals, there would be a significant increase in the amount of money going towards the murals' upkeep. Currently, there is no specific pool of funds exclusively dedicated for the murals, instead money is allocated as the need arises.

The tower receives over 200,000 visitors a year.

The text of the proposed resolution reads:

It shall be the policy of the People of the City and County of San Francisco to protect Coit Tower and preserve the historic murals inside Coit Tower by strictly limiting commercial activities and private events at Coit Tower and by prioritizing the funds received by the City from any concession operations at Coit Tower for preserving the Coit Tower murals, protecting and maintaining the Coit Tower building, and beautifying Pioneer Park around Coit Tower.

Real estate blog Curbed takes a not especially charitable view of Protect Coit Tower Committee's motives. "Perhaps the Protect Coit Tower Committee, which is essentially run by a small but powerful neighborhood group that historically opposes any development, is trying to privatize a public landmark," writes Sally Kuchar. "Because there's a small threat that the surrounding very fancy and very expensive homes could be bothered with shuttle buses bringing eager tourists to and from a San Francisco landmark for an occasional private event."

The murals, which line the inside on the tower's bottom floor, depict colorful, slice-of-life scenes of the 1930s from over two dozen artists and were funded as part of the President Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration.

The proposition needs to gather at least 9,000 signatures by February 6th in order to quality for the June ballot.

Check out this slideshow of pictures of the murals: