“Fire chasing” is nearly as old as fire itself,
but Lillie Hitchcock Coit took it to a whole new level.
21 stories, to be exact.
The Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco is her gift to a city that knew her as a fire-obsessed eccentric.
Built in 1933 and taking five years to complete, this art deco Historic Landmark cost $125,000 at the time.
It’s only 210 feet tall but Telegraph Hill is 295 feet to the summit, so a viewer at the top is about 500 feet above sea level.
The TransAmerica Pyramid is the tallest building in the city, at 853 feet.
But the Coit Tower views are unparalleled.
That’s Alcatraz on the island.
Lillie was a wealthy socialite with weird habits.
She smoked cigars, wore fireman’s clothes and chased firetrucks all over the city at a time when San Francisco was largely wood.
The tower is not wood.
It is three concentric tubes of reinforced concrete,
the outer tube a cosmetic shell.
The inner tube holds an elevator and the tube between is where the helical staircase rises.
If you’ve never been up there as I had not, take the time next time you visit.
It gives an immediate sense of the lay of the land,
and there’s a public toilet just outside.
San Francisco is thoughtful that way.