Lillie Coit was one of the more eccentric characters in the history of Telegraph Hill, smoking cigars and wearing trousers long before it was socially acceptable for women to do so. She was an avid gambler and often dressed like a man in order to gain entrance into the highroller establishments that dotted North Beach. She loved to chase fires and on one incident at age fifteen, she threw her school texts down and ordered bystanders to pitch-in to put out a blaze. Knickerbocker Engine Co. No. 5 made her their official mascot, rendering her a perpetual Hall Pass to miss school when “duty” called. Her Last Will and Testament funded the monument following her death in 1929.
The intention of the Coit Tower design is still debated today. Many argue that it mirrors the image of a fire nozzle, but there are others who hold a much different opinion. Alfred Hitchcock insisted that Coit Tower be visible from his lead actor’s (played by Jimmy Stewart, co-starring Kim Novak) boudoir in the movie Vertigo. When asked why, the director simply said because “It’s a phallic symbol,” and he showed a rare grin. As a devout sinner, I prefer the later version. What’s your take on it? Next post, we’ll look at the murals inside Coit Tower.