San Francisco’s Adolph Sutro, the self-made millionaire who designed Sutro Heights and later the second Cliff House, developed the amazing Sutro Baths in 1894.
- The baths became a major attraction for the entire Bay Area, from San Jose to San Raphael.
- He constructed an ocean pool aquarium among the rocks north of the Cliff House with his particular interest in natural history and marine studies.
- Sutro then expanded his oceanfront complex by constructing a massive public bathhouse that covered three acres and boasted impressive engineering and artistic details.
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.
- Tourists visiting San Francisco made the Baths a major sightseeing stop.
- There were slides, trapezes, springboards, and a high dive.
- During high tide, the power of the Pacific Ocean 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.
SUTRO’S PROGRESSIVE SPIRIT
Typical of Sutro’s progressive spirit, he designed the Baths to provide its visitors with educational and 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.
THE END OF AN ERA
For all their glamour and excitement, the Baths were not commercially successful over the long-term.
- Adolph Sutro died in 1898, and for many years, his family continued to manage his properties.
- Over time, the Baths became less popular due to the Great Depression, reducing available public transportation and new public health codes.
- In attempts to make the facility profitable, the owners converted the baths into an ice-skating rink.
- Still, Sutro Baths never regained its popularity, and the ice-skating revenue was not enough to maintain the enormous building.
HIGH RISE APARTMENTS and the SUTRO FIRE
In 1964, developers with plans to replace the Baths with high-rise apartments bought the site and began demolition of the once magnificent 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 grand Sutro Baths’ remains and have been part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area since 1973.