Seven Views of Sutro Tower

From everywhere in and around San Francisco, the Sutro TV Tower is visible; but  for our neighborhood, it’s iconic. So recently, when a friend pointed me at Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber (1910-1992), I was fascinated to discover that the tower featured in its opening pages.

“The TV tower — San Francisco’s Eiffel, you could call it — was broad-shouldered, slender-waisted, and long-legged like a beautiful and stylish woman — or demigoddess.”

He was writing back in the 1970s, when the tower was new, and literary analogies sometimes a touch sexist:

“… the TV tower stood tall, her colors fresh and gussied-up and elegant as a brand-new whore (Your pardon, Goddess).

Not everyone was so complimentary. I was looking up information on Mount Davidson when I came upon this quote:Now a giant red and white, but politically correct, pitchfork adorns the mountain named after Adolph Sutro.” —  Jacqueline Proctor, Mt, article on Madie Brown (2010)

The Chronicle weighed in: ‘”…it’s a beacon, an orientation point,” EHDD’s Marc L’Italien says of the 977-foot three-pronged communications tower completed in 1973 despite an outcry from neighborhood groups. “It’s also well-proportioned, a bit futuristic…”‘ — John King, SF Chronicle, 8 March 2011.

[Edited to Add on 18 May 2012: From Earl Martin, an original resident Midtown Terrace resident, I got this photo taken around 1957. It shows the predecessor to today’s tower – a lot slimmer than the existing one.]


Then I went to the review site, Yelp, which allows anyone to review anything from laundries to landmarks.  It had 47 reviews of the tower…

Like this one from GIR in 2007:  “Sutro Tower is also the coolest landmark in SF, a giant diabolical pacemaker in the heart of the city. It is instantly recognizable without being a common tourist attraction, defining and defiantly brazen against the sky.”

Mike S totally disagreed: “It’s a hunk of red and white metal that s*its on the SF skyline…” And Derek B expressed the same sentiment: “Painted red and white, it’s obnoxious.  Stickin’ out of the purdy twin peaks, it’s an eye sore…”

John S had mixed feelings about the tower: “On the one hand, it’s iconic and visible from a great deal of the city and the East Bay.  Its scale is also amazing.  It’s obviously very tall, but you don’t really understand just how tall it is until you’ve been up pretty close to it. On the other hand, it’s most likely carcinogenic, and it is pretty ugly. OK, I’m not sure how ugly it really is because I actually like how it looks…”


Sutro tower even has its own t-shirts, from at least two many different makers, among them United Hue; and Amos Goldbaum. Handmade earrings from Chantal de Felice  (being sold at her Etsy store). Many artists, particularly print-makers,  have found its geometric lines interesting.

And…fans even got it as tattoos.

Chris R, whose tattoo appear in this photograph on Flickr, explains: “A tribute to my dad who died back in 1990. He lived here in SF, so I’d always come to visit on weekends and such. He played around with wood block printing as a hobby, and Sutro tower was always a significant landmark for me, so the design just seemed to fit.” Chris found the image on the craft-site Etsy, but couldn’t recall the artist. Only afterward did he discover the original artist, Eric Rewitzer of 3 Fish Studio,  who was honored that his work was so memorialized. (See the comment-stream after the photograph.)


The last word goes to Fritz Leiber, from the same book: “The constellation of Orion was shouldering into his window… its nine brightest stars made an angular, tilted hourglass, challenging the smaller slenderer one made by the nineteen winking red lights of the TV tower… When he’d first seen the tower, he’d thought it worse than grotesque, but now — how strange! — it had become almost as reassuring to him as starry Orion.”

4 thoughts on “Seven Views of Sutro Tower”

  1. And let’s not forget the comment made by the late Herb Caen in his column — to the effect that the Sutro Tower is actually the crate that the Transamerica Pyramid came in. (I still use that line with visitors and they derive much amusement in the observation). jav

    1. I hadn’t heard that one! There’s another quote about Sutro Tower also attributed to Herb Caen: “I keep waiting for it to stalk down the hill and attack the Golden Gate Bridge.”

      1. The way I remember it, Herb Cain wrote that the Sutro Tower stalked down the hill and mated with the Transamerica Pyramid

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