Sutro Baths in San Francisco
The Sutro Baths were a large, privately owned swimming pool complex in San Francisco, California, built in the late 19th century. The building housing the baths burned down in 1966 and was abandoned. The ruins may still be visited.
On March 14, 1896, the Sutro Baths were opened to the public as the world's largest indoor swimming pool establishment. The baths were built on the sleepy western side of San Francisco by wealthy entrepreneur and former mayor of San Francisco (1894–1896), Adolph Sutro. The vast glass, iron, wood, and reinforced concrete structure was mostly hidden, and filled a small beach inlet below the Cliff House, also owned by Adolph Sutro at the time. Both the Cliff House and the former baths site are now a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and operated by the United States National Park Service.
A visitor to the baths not only had a choice of seven different swimming pools—one fresh water and six salt water baths ranging in temperatures—but could also visit a museum displaying Sutro's large and varied personal collection of artifacts from his travels, a concert hall, seating for 8,000, and, at one time, an ice skating rink. During high tides, water would flow directly into the pools from the nearby ocean, recycling the two million US gallons (7,600 m³) of water in about an hour. During low tides, a powerful turbine water pump, built inside a cave at sea level, could be switched on from a control room and could fill the tanks at a rate of 6,000 US gallons a minute (380 L/s), recycling all the water in five hours.
The baths were once serviced by a rail line, the Ferries and Cliff House Railroad, which ran along the cliffs of Lands End overlooking the Golden Gate. The route ran from the baths to a terminal at California Street and Central Avenue (now Presidio Avenue).
The baths struggled for years, mostly due to the very high operating and maintenance costs. Shortly after closing, a fire in 1966 destroyed the building while it was in the process of being demolished. All that remains of the site are concrete walls, blocked off stairs and passageways, and a tunnel with a deep crevice in the middle. The Sutro Bath ruins are open to the public, but a warning sign advises strict caution, as visitors have been swept off by large waves and drowned at the site.
Currently, visitors coming to the Sutro Baths from the above parking lot are presented with a sign that describes the history of Sutro Baths starting from its construction and glamorous opening to the public in 1896. Another sign describes the later years of the site's history up until its demolition and complete destruction by fire in 1966. As one walks up out of the ruins toward the historic Cliff House, home to two full service restaurants: "Sutro’s at the Cliff House" and "The Bistro", as well as the "Terrace Room", a private Dining/reception room, one can find other pictures, paintings, and relics from the golden age of Sutro Baths’ functional operation.
Seal Rock is just offshore from the bath ruins.
Appearances on film
Footage preserved by the Library of Congress
Several films are stored by the Library of Congress as part of the American Memory collection and available for viewing online.
- Sutro Baths, no. 1 and Sutro Baths, no. 2, filmed in 1897 by Thomas A. Edison, Inc.
- Panoramic view from a steam engine on the Ferries and Cliff House Railroad line route along the cliffs of Lands End, starting at the Sutro Baths depot, filmed in 1902 by Thomas A. Edison, Inc.
- Panoramic view from the beach below Cliff House at Sutro Baths, filmed in 1903 by American Mutoscope and Biograph Company.
The Lineup (1958)
The 1958 film The Lineup was the only non-documentary film to use the fully built baths as a shooting location. The scenes were shot after Sutro Baths' conversion to an ice skating rink.
Harold and Maude (1971)
The baths are featured in a scene in the 1971 film Harold and Maude in which Harold pretends to assault Maude while she acts the part of a war protester, in order to convince Harold's uncle (a high-ranking military man) that he is unfit for service. Maude "falls" down a hole in the ground and disappears after Harold grabs her protest sign and chases her with it, striking her and calling her various names such as "Commie!"
Sutro's: The Palace at Lands End (2011)
This documentary by Tom Wyrsch includes footage and photographs of the Baths, Sutro Railway, Cliff House, ice skating rink, Egyptian Mummy Museum, Musee Mecanique, and the Giggling Ghost.
Statistics according to a 1912 article written by J. E. Van Hoosear of Pacific Gas and Electric.
- Length of baths: 499.5 ft
- Width of baths: 254.1 ft
- Amount of glass used: 100000 sqft
- Iron in roof columns: 600 tons
- Lumber: 3500000 board feet
- Concrete: 10000 yd3
- Seating capacity, amphitheater: 3,700
- Seating capacity, promenade: 3,700
- Holding capacity: 25,000
- Salt water tanks: 6
- Capacity of tanks: 1805000 usgal
- Fresh water, plunge tank: 1
- Toboggan slides in baths: 7
- Swinging rings: 30
- Spring boards: 1
- Private dressing rooms: 517
- Club rooms capacity: 1,110
- Time required to fill tank by high tide: 1 hour
- Time required to fill tank by pump: 5 hours
- Lurline Baths
- 49-Mile Scenic Drive
Sutro Baths then
- Comprehensive history of the Sutro Baths (Western Neighborhoods website)
- Photos of Sutro Baths from the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection (San Francisco Public Library)
- Over 100 photos taken at the Sutro Baths, including interiors not seen at any other links and pictures taken immediately before, during, and after the fire.
Sutro Baths now
- Sutro Bath and Cliff House page at the National Park Service website
- A fantastic starting point for all things related to the Sutro Baths
- Current home of the Egyptian art exhibit formerly located at the Sutro Baths
- An online posting by a relative of the last owners of the Sutro Baths, and sheds a little light on the fire that destroyed it in 1966