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Sutro Baths

SutroBathsSF3726

In 1894, Adolph Sutro, the self-made millionaire who designed Sutro Heights and the second Cliff House in San Francisco, constructed an ocean pool aquarium among the rocks north of the Cliff House and expanded his ocean front complex by constructing a massive public bathhouse (Sutro Baths) that covered three acres! The ruins of the Baths are in my image, above.

The National Park Service site describes the Baths:

Sutro’s dream for the Baths was to provide a healthy, recreational and inexpensive swimming facility for thousands of San Franciscans. A classic Greek portal opened to a massive glass enclosure containing seven swimming pools at various temperatures. There were slides, trapezes, springboards and a high dive. The power of the Pacific Ocean during high tide could fill the 1.7 million gallons of water required for all the pools in just one hour. The Baths could accommodate 10,000 people at one time and offered 20,000 bathing suits and 40,000 towels for rent.

Typical of Sutro’s progressive spirit, he designed the Baths to provide its visitors with educational as well as recreational opportunities. The front entrance contained natural history exhibits, galleries of sculptures, paintings, tapestries and artifacts from Mexico, China, Asia, and the Middle East, including the popular Egyptian mummies. In addition to swimming, Sutro Baths offered visitors many other attractions including band concerts, talent shows, and restaurants. With several railroads providing transportation to the area by the late 1890s, a visit to Sutro Baths crowned an all-day family excursion to the shore, including stops at Sutro Heights, the Cliff House and Ocean Beach.

Over the long term, however, the Baths were not a commercial success. Adolph Sutro died in 1898 and his family continued to manage his properties. The Baths became less popular, as the result of the Great Depression, the reduction in available public transportation, and new public health codes.

In 1964, developers with plans to replace the Baths with high-rise apartments bought the site and began demolition of the once great structure. In 1966, a fire destroyed what was left of the Baths; the city did not pursue the high-rise apartment plans. The concrete ruins just north of the Cliff House are the remains of the grand Sutro Baths and have been part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area since 1973.

-Bill at

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