Masha Zakheim
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Masha Zakheim

19 May 1931

12 February 2014

Masha Zakheim created a remarkable identity for herself. Energetic and expressive, she gave numerous talks and lectures on the art, architecture and history of San Francisco. Synonymous with Coit Tower, and a City Guide docent for many years, she was connected with the City Club, Beach Chalet, Stock Exchange, SF Art Institute and California Historical Society. She had a clear and enthusiastic, knowledgeable way of engaging with and drawing out her audience. 

Through her company Articulate Art: San Francisco of the 1930s, Masha specialized in Mexican muralists and local New Deal art, in addition to championing the work of her father, the outspoken Jewish-Polish Coit Tower artist Bernard Zakheim.  Her authoritative book Coit Tower: Its History and Art – published by Volcano Press – was integral in keeping this iconic landmark on the map. Her book Diego Rivera in San Francisco was published in Spanish in 1998.

Masha was born in San Francisco to artist Bernard Baruch Zakheim and interior decorator Eda Leah Spiegelman, both from Poland, on 19 May 1931 – at 12 noon, as she liked to tell it, on a Tuesday, when the weekly air siren sounded. In 2006 the date was designated Masha Zakheim Day by the mayor of San Francisco.

Along with her then-husband Don Jewett (they were married in 1954), Masha spent several years in England, where her first child was born. In 1956 she got a Masters in English from UC Berkeley. 

With her lively intellect and love of words, Masha inspired scores of students during her 25 years as a tenured English and Humanities instructor at SF City College and a teacher at SF State University. For 20 years after retiring she was still actively involved – the City College Academic Senate recognized her in 2008 for keeping the on-campus Diego Rivera mural "in the public eye, and for her scholarly efforts in capturing the stories of her native city".

Masha embraced the arts personally and professionally, supporting the symphony, opera and theatre and running the student ushering program at City College.

Thoughtful, motivated and always there for people, she was very social and an excellent cook. Her New Year open-house parties, with hundreds of guests, were legendary. 

Masha travelled the world, always with a focus: she visited churches where Bach played and did a walking pilgrimage in Japan, a country she was drawn to. She often hosted Japanese students in her home. 

As one friend said: "Masha was a mentor; she just connected. She had a great passion for life. Masha really lived."

Masha died on 12 February 2014, after prolonged illnesses, with us, her daughters Leah Royall and Bethany Stark, at her side in Los Angeles. She was the sister of Volcano Press publisher Ruth Gottstein, art conservator Nathan Zakheim, and Matthew Zakheim; and grandmother to Yale, Julian, Copeland and Dare.

We are grateful to have had a mother who was so supportive, articulate and upbeat (one of her favorite words).

A memorial will be held in early August. Please contact for details

Donations to preferred

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in San Francisco Chronicle from Feb. 20 to Feb. 23, 2014.
Memories & Condolences
Guest Book sponsored by Her daughters, Leah and Bethany
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36 entries
February 19, 2020
Indeed, for many of us your bright spirit and the many special memories we shared with you are always in our hearts and in our thoughts, dear Masha. I am always deeply grateful for our paths crossing during those several years of learning so much under your generous and uplifting guidance at CCSF.
Elana F.
October 1, 2019
A wonderful teacher and so kind as I clearly remember when I was taught by Masha at City College in San Francisco (1980).
Bradford A. Barrett
April 28, 2019
To everyone and especially to Masha, I'm sending my condolences very late in the day, like over five years after her passing. My introduction to Masha began as a business transaction when I replied to her ad in the local Japanese-American newspaper about a room available at her home. I just graduated from the police academy and began working for the Berkeley Police. That was in December 1987 and I lived at 53 Cameo Way with Masha and her two Siamese cats until January 1990. I'm not exaggerating when I write that my interaction with Masha, her intercultural and intellectual friends, her two lovely daughters and the two cats(I lied to Masha about liking cats) became the turning point of my life. I quit law enforcement, then got together with the love of my life, Shoko, from Japan, and enrolled in graduate school. Shoko and I got married in September 1989 and I continued school and worked part-time at Security Pacific Bank next to Safeway. Shoko is a college professor in Tokyo and she sent students to Masha's place for short and long term stays. Masha made frequent visits to Japan and stayed with friends. Masha was a wonderful cook and her lemon squares were out of this world. More importantly, Masha was the most caring and sharing human being I've ever met. Since living in Japan, we've had three cats. Shoko and I love Masha. We miss her.
Dale Tateiwa
February 14, 2019
As we get ready to lend CCSF's Diego Rivera mural to SFMOMA for the 2020 "Rivera's America " exhibition, we remember all the work Masha did to keep the mural in the public eye. Thank you, Masha.
Will Maynez
February 12, 2015
In loving memory on the first anniversary ...
As one casts a pensive eye above and then to give a grateful smile for our shared pleasure to have known such a bright and generous spirit such as yours, dear Masha.
Elana F.
February 7, 2015
As a student of Masha Zakheim's at CCSF in the '78-'79 quarter, I profited greatly from her coaching and counsel. Then, leaving San Francisco in late '79, I lost track of my wonderful writing coach. Today, thirty-six years later, I found a handwritten note from her to me, encouraging me to continue writing. I have her to thank for my having finally published my first historical novel, "Asano no Katana (Sword of Asano)". When I found her note today I immediately Googled her name so I could thank her for her invaluable guidance so many years ago. My condolences to her family and friends. She was with me, in spirit, every step of the way as I worked on my book.
Gene Brown
November 27, 2014
Sorry to hear of your passing. Remembering fun parties at your home. Helping you with your garden. Good conversations and company. Our tour guide at Coit Tower. Dinner at the house of prime rib. Lemon squares. You will be missed terribly. San Francisco has lost a legend.
Glenn Ayako & Justin Fukudome
August 9, 2014
Here Masha is with Hermine Beck, a fan from Beverly Hills.
Just as Masha and I felt honored to be met by Rivera's gracious daughter, who treated us to lunch and took us to her beautiful home, I felt privileged to travel with Masha, who also attracted a "fan" in Hermine Beck, who had heard one of Masha's talks and enjoyed it so much that she "followed" Masha to Mexico City, where the three of us visited Luis Martin, the Rivera scholar we'd met at CCSF. I have to say that I am NOT accustomed to being chauffeured around, so it was a unique experience when both Hermine Beck's chauffeur and Lupe Rivera Marin's chauffeur gave us rides, but that's the kind of unique experience Masha earned! Most of the time, we could just walk from the Hotel Catedral to murals and restaurants. Masha was a real beauty--as a brunette and with white hair--and she was also a very devoted mother. (After she and I talked about how often she called her daughters, I felt that I'd been neglecting my son!)
Tina Martin
August 9, 2014
This photo was taken by Lupe Rivera Marin's chauffeur, who picked us up in Cuernavaca. He was a better driver than photographer.
When I first came to the Ocean Campus of City College and started working with my students on the Diego Rivera Mural of Pan American Unity, a colleague told me that the person to contact was Masha Zakheim. Sure enough, she was the one on campus who was doing the most to connect students with the treasure that many on campus hadn't known was there. Even though she was in retirement, she willingly came in to talk to my students about the mural, and she and I wound up taking a trip together to Mexico City in 2001.
June 23, 2014
Masha was my friend and my mentor. I met her in the fall of 1975 while an intern in the Humanities Department at C.C.S.F.. Soon I would be included in her parties at her beautiful home whether just our little department or the big ones when the home was packed with the most interesting people in S.F.. In 1984, Masha gave one of the most amazing lecture and slide show on Diego Rivera. She then walked us over to The Mural and continued her explication of that great work of art. I knew then and there that she was the to to person regarding Anything pertaining to S.F. and Bay Area Arts. In the late 80's I was given the task to teach the S.F. Humanities Class, and how I needed help to put my material together. She was my guru, and I owe everything to her for continuing her legacy. I loved being with Masha because every encounter was a learning experience. Generosity was her middle name, and she provided me with numerous outings to the symphony, local theaters, and lectures. She entrusted me with the 1/2 price student tickets to the symphony program which I still promote to this day. Regardless of her retirement in 1991, her connection with the college never ceased. The Humanities Holiday Party and the Solstice Party continued along with numerous others which occurred every year. Also, her mission to put the Diego Rivera Mural front and center never stopped. Even though her capacities waned in her final years, she managed to organize a party for my 60th birthday. Gratitude in her regard will never cease. I miss her, but I am glad that a proper memorial will be taking place on Saturday, August 9 at the Diego Rivera Theater commencing at noon. I will be there; I would not miss it for anything.
Masha's friend,
Bill Mc Guire
William Mc Guire
May 20, 2014
Dear Masha... In memory of what would've been your birthday yesterday, I light this little candle... May it light your spirit's way to all that is beautiful... xx
Elana F.
April 19, 2014
I first met Masha back in 1987 right before we all took a trip to Japan. Good times! I am glad to have met you and you will be missed. My condolences to the rest of the family.
Wellman Lee
April 9, 2014
"The Library" / Coit Tower October 2009
Dear Masha, I know how hard you may find it to believe, as you will remember when it came to writing I've never been at a loss for words and expressing my emotions, and yet for several weeks my pen will not write and prefers instead that I am alone reflecting upon my thoughts and memories of you. We had met in 1982 when I'd taken what had ended up being the first of all five of the courses you had taught at CCSF. How difficult it is now for me, Masha, to read over all the comments you'd written for me within the margins of the papers and essays from during those 5 semesters - you gave SO MUCH of yourself even on a more private and personal level that I even found a separate and very special little note that I'd forgotten yet upon reading it remembered well when I'd found it inside my journal when you'd it. With fondness I remember how I treasured all your constructive critiquing and was always taken back by your enthusiasm encouraging me to "go on and cultivate your many talents."
I remember enjoying a delightful pre-Christmas holiday dinner party hosted in your lovely home; an invitation to attend an evening exhibit at the Vorpal Gallery; the many cultural events you'd inspired me to attend by suggesting I volunteer as an usher; and most special of all to me, Masha, your afternoon tour of Coit Tower in October 1983 in celebration of its 50th Anniversary, and afterwards joining you for lunch at the US Restaurant, where you'd introduced me to "pesto" saying I'd prefer it to any other sauce on pasta - you were right, Masha, and I still use the recipe you gave me - as you'd preferred it "creamy, not oily" - and since then pesto has remained my favourite pasta sauce. I also remember your enthusiasm to introduce and treat me to a Sacripantina from across the street at Stella Pastry & Café, and upon learning I lived nearby on Nob Hill offered to give me a ride home. These long-ago and special memories are but a few of the many I treasure, Masha, so it's with a VERY heavy heart I recall and share them here... I save sharing my last and perhaps most poignant memory, my attending your father's memorial service that was held at Toland Hall. I learned of his passing by seeing it in the obituaries, & though you'd given me your phone number, I felt too shy to call and instead just arrived and was pleasantly greeted with a welcomed surprise and by your warm smile; and I finally got to meet your lovely daughter Leah whom you'd often had told me I reminded you so much - and in your excitement to introduce us you'd also mentioned it then to Leah.
And so, I've now come full circle since it is now your own obituary I have chanced upon 2 months ago, Masha... It is now with much relief my words have finally found their way of expressing some of the memories I've both happily and sadly reflected upon, Masha. I look forward to contacting Leah to arrange attending your memorial service in August, and with much privilege and honour also look forward to meeting so many of the friends whose lives and hearts you have also touched, Masha.

Like you, I am also proud to be a Native San Franciscan... On her most beautiful of days - gazing out from atop Coit Tower beneath a cloudless blue sky - San Francisco cannot look or feel the same without thinking of you not with us, Masha ... A inspiring instructor and mentor, and indeed, a beauiful special friend.
Because I do not believe in saying "goodbye" I will only say, dear Masha, "au revoir"...
and shall end here as you'd inscribed my copy of "Coit Tower San Francisco":

(very honoured to have been one amongst many...)

Ever "an exemplary student"...

~ Elana F. xox
Elana F.
April 6, 2014
I miss your mother so much Leah. I think of her each and every day at present and think 'Oh but she is not there in
California and where is she?' It goes on for some time
this when someone close dies
It will gradually get less. What a lovely photo of her
she was so attractive|
Mary. I am getting this as right as I can!
Mary Royall
April 4, 2014
Dear Masha:
You were always very kind to me. I was the boy next door to you on Cameo Way. I always loved coming to your Eichler home, listening to the classical music, admiring your OED, forever enchanted with your daughters. You said I had a mellifluous voice. I loved eating your lemon squares and thought you made the best matzo ball soup. I remember driving to see your father in Sebastopol, eating Chinese food with your family at Yut Wah's, and serving mulled wine at your Holiday parties. There were always the most colorful sort of characters. Unbeknownst to you, those were some of the best times of my life. I'll remember you always, your mellifluous neighbor,
Terrence Gee
March 12, 2014
Masha was my instructor, mentor, and dear friend. She opened my eyes to the San Francisco art and artists of the '30s.
She will be missed.
She will forever be in my mind & heart.
Lito Lopez
March 3, 2014
I'm proud to have been a colleague of Masha's at CCSF. I always admired her
upbeat personality, endearing smile and wise perspective on the world of education, art and music. My son and Bethamy were in the same class at Lick so that gave us additional topics to
discuss. I will miss her presence.

Betty Dvorson
March 2, 2014
Masha Zakheim was truly one of San Francisco's treasures. I talked to her several times on the phone; she went out of her way to help in Coit Tower research. Our daughters went to the same high school in the '80s and were friends. The Coit Tower book is a wonderful tribute to her father and those other artists of the Depression.
joan wood
March 1, 2014
Although I did not meet Masha, she lives on in San Franciscans hearts!
March 1, 2014
Jayne Blatchly, daughter Ellen Fortier and Masha Zakheim before Otis Oldfield art at the City Club of San Francisco
I met Masha when she was interviewing my mother, Helen Clark Oldfield, wife of Coit Tower artist Otis Oldfield in 1978 for her upcoming Coit Tower book.
We became close friends due to our fathers' connection to the Coit and Masha's interest in the murals of the 1930s.
I often accompanied her on her docent meetings ar the Coit, the City Club,the Beach Chalet and the Rivera mural at City College. Masha was always amazed at the amount of detail I could add to the subject since I grew up among the people depicted in the art as well as the artists' families.
I have missed Masha during her illness as we often met for lunch at the City Club and and Beach Chalet and attended gallery openings together. Though not unexpected, her death represents a great loss to me. I am very glad I got to know her well and as a close friend have many happy memories of time spent with her.
Jayne (Oldfield) Blatchly
jayne blatchly
March 1, 2014
When I was working on "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill," our nonprofit organization received a donation from a person named Masha Zakheim. Then, I didn't even know whether this person was a man or a woman. Researching this unique name, I came upon her family history and her intimate connection to Coit Tower and Telegraph Hill. I was thrilled that she had made a point to donate to the film. Thank you, Masha. Rest in peace.
Judy Irving
February 28, 2014
Masha's work was integral to the cultural legacy of our city. She kept the extraordinary work of WPA artists alive. We cannot thank her enough.
Lenore Naxon
February 28, 2014
I met Masha through Will and Julia both who loved and respected her. I, too was moved by her dedication and passion.
Edgar Torres
February 26, 2014
Thanks Masha for all you did to promote and respect the arts and artists! Your legacy will be forever a part of our collective history and help to make a better world for all through creative endeavors. We will miss you greatly!
Phil Pasquini
February 25, 2014
Thanks to the Institute for Historical Studies for introducing me to this inspiring woman. It makes a difference just to know about her character and accomplishments. My condolences to the family she loved so well.
Leslie Friedman
February 24, 2014
I knew Masha when I was a student of hers in the early 1980's pursuing a B.A in American Studies at SFSU. I was sorry to hear about her recent passing and want to offer you and your family my sincerest sympathies and condolences on your loss.

I forget how we first met, but recall that she introduced me to your grandfather Bernard soon afterwards. As part of my research on the history of the Coit Tower muralists, John Reed Clubs, PWAP and WPA artists in SF, I had the great good fortune to interview Bernard at his farm and sculpture garden in Sebastopol on a cold, wet winter afternoon. I incorporated parts of his oral history into my undergraduate theses for SFSU and a labor and the arts course at CCSF.

Masha made a deep impression on me, a recent arrival to the SF Bay area in 1979. She was an ardent and welcoming ambassador for a beautiful city and its public works of art, and a mentor for other art and cultural historians. I greatly appreciate her role in my life and look forward to sharing my sentiments and sympathies when we meet in August.
Tom White
February 24, 2014
Bette, Carole & Leah
To Leah , Bethany and Family-May God rest Masha's beautiful Soul. What a privilige it was to know her and to know both of you. We will miss her.
carole gillie
February 23, 2014
I got to meet her in the late 1980"s up at Coit Tower. Thanks to Masha and her sister Ruth for see the murals were looked after.
Richard Rothman
February 23, 2014
A great friend.
John Rusk
February 23, 2014
Pre-symphony dinners at Masha's favorite restaurants – Indigo or Chez Paul. New Year's parties with lavish spreads, preceded by the always lovely calligraphic invitations. Dinners at Cameo Drive, with the very shibui centerpiece floral arrangements and music playing softly in the background. An amazing private tour of Coit Tower, another to the City Club (with a lunch treat, of course) and yet another to the SF Art Institute murals. These and more are the things I will always think of, while never forgetting the pain of illnesses which transformed the dynamic, energetic woman she really had been. My heart goes out to all of you.
Debby Nosowsky
February 23, 2014
She made grand use of a life.
Former Student
February 23, 2014
My condolences to Masha's family. It's with great fondness that I recall her friendship, dating back to the early 70s. Her presence added to my life, for which I am very grateful.
Bob Plantz
February 23, 2014
My condolences to Masha's family. I remember her gracious hospitality for meetings of the Institute for Historical Study in her home in Diamond Heights. I also remember her enthusiasm for all the murals she introduced us to over the years.

Ellen Huppert
San Francsico
Ellen Huppert
February 23, 2014
Désolé pour toute la famille. Sincères condoléances. Sakil
Sakil Valimahomed
February 22, 2014
I am yale stark and I miss my grandmother very much
Yale Stark
February 22, 2014
Dear Masha,
I am writing this afternoon and am grammatically challenged. Sure could use your help right now. Will miss our work on the Rivera brochure parsing words. Your link in the chain of mural stewards is very shiny.
Will Maynez
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