sucker that I am for buildings with interesting historical backgrounds, one of the sites I found most interesting on our amphibious tour of Austin was the Buford Tower on West Chavez Street. our driver, an admitted former firefighter, pointed out the building in passing – something the force used previously for training purposes – but I was curious to learn more.
built in 1930, it was used for practice for nearly five decades before being replaced by another structure elsewhere in town. it stood disused for several years until the widow of the man who designed the tower donated money to have it refurbished and to have the upper floors converted for use as a carillon tower. it’s name honors James Buford, a captain who drowned attempting to rescue a 15-year-old from flood waters in Shoal Creek. now, it’s an interesting, incongruous site against the modern structures of downtown Austin.
located atop Telegraph Hill, the 210-foot Coit Tower offers spectacular views of San Francisco and the Bay. it was built in 1933 at the bequest of Lillian Hitchcock Coit, who left a third of her sizable estate the city to construct some sort of “beautifying” monument. the resulting tower, made of reinforced concrete, is a memorial to San Francisco firefighters.
until 1866, volunteers fought the fires that frequently broke out in the wooden structures of San Francisco. this meant hauling Engines up and down the steep hills of San Francisco in order to reach the site of the blazes. at the age of 15, Lillie Coit saw Engine No. 5 in action and, noticing it was short-handed, chucked her schoolbooks in order to lend a hand, enlisting bystanders to help push the Engine up Telegraph Hill. from that day forward, Lillie was an honorary mascot of the Engine company, embracing the hard-drinking, gambling, smoking, and pants-waring habits of her heroes.
in addition to being a memorial to firefighters, murals painted in the lobby of the tower depict the diverse activities of working people. carried out by the Public Works of Art Project, critics condemned the the murals and artists as communist for decades. these criticisms ultimately backfired as they engendered pride among San Franciscans and helped turn the Tower into one of the iconic images of the city.