San Francisco Sutro Baths
Welcome to the Sutro Baths!
A hallowed place in San Francisco, modern ruins on the edge of the continent. Crashing waves, labyrinthine structures, wild lilies, cliff-lodged cypress trees reaching towards the ocean, a thundering cave, and but a single signpost warning you of getting thrown off the rocks and a dying.
What couldn’t you see at Sutro Baths? Egyptian Mummies? Stuffed birds, stuffed apes, stuffed snakes fighting stuffed jaguars? Totem Poles? Cigar-store Indians? How about tropical plants? Pinned insects? Coin collections? Photograph collections? Fine Art Collections? They were all there. Oh yes, you could also see up to ten thousand bathers (the capacity, by the owner’s estimate) swimming, diving, sliding, swinging, soaking and lolling about.
Beyond the striking location and colorful history, it’s especially remarkable for such a place to exist in a country where few structures past their best days survive. It’s allowed to be harrowing and wild in a time and place where shampoos carry warnings and most interesting things are cordoned off for your protection. Here’s the playground for those who love crumbling stone clubhouses, jutting pipe monkey bars, stairways that lead
The Sutro Baths were a large, privately owned swimming pool complex near Seal Rock in San Francisco, California, built in the late 19th century. The facility was financially unprofitable and is now in ruins. Lands around the site have been integrated into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Here comes the History of the ambitious and magnificent Sutro Baths. Adolph Sutro, the self-made millionaire who designed Sutro Heights and later the second Cliff House, developed the amazing Sutro Baths in 1894. With his special interest in natural history and marine studies, he constructed an ocean pool aquarium among the rocks north of the Cliff House. Sutro then expanded his ocean front 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. 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.
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, reduction in 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, but Sutro Baths never regained its popularity and the ice-skating revenue was not enough to maintain the enormous building. 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.
Materials used in the structure included 100,000 sq ft (9,300 m2) of glass, 600 tons of iron, 3,500,000 board feet (8,300 m3) of lumber, and 10,000 Cu yd (7,600 m3) of concrete. 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). 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.
Facilities included in the Sutro baths are: Six saltwater pools and one freshwater pool. The baths were 499.5 feet (152.2 m) long and 254.1 feet (77.4 m) wide for a capacity of 1,805,000 US gallons (6,830 m3). They were equipped with 7 slides, 30 swinging rings, and 1 springboard; A museum displaying an extensive collection of stuffed and mounted animals, historic artifacts, and artwork, much of which Sutro acquired from the Woodward’s Gardens estate sale in 1894; A 2700 seat amphitheater, and club rooms with capacity for 1100; 517 private dressing rooms; An ice skating rink.
You can also watch a good collection of flora and fauna here. Between June and September, the golden-yellow, button-shaped flowers of the dune tansy (Tanacetum camphoratum) brighten the cliffs around Sutro Baths. People once made an herbal remedy of tansy tea to cure colds, expel worms, treat hysteria, strengthen the kidneys, and ease other ailments. You can also watch Northern River Otter here. River otters (Lotra Canadensis) are a semi-aquatic, carnivorous member of the weasel family. River otters are curious by nature and will sometimes approach people. Wild animals can be unpredictable, and river otters have been known to attack people.
Lands End is a park in San Francisco within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It is a rocky and windswept shoreline at the mouth of the Golden Gate, situated between the Sutro District and Lincoln Park and abutting Fort Miley Military Reservation. Lands End contains the ruins of the Sutro Baths. A memorial to the USS San Francisco stands in the park. Numerous hiking trails follow the former rail beds of the Ferries and Cliff House Railway along the cliffs and also down to the shore.
Here comes the history of the Lands End. The Yelamu Ohlone tribe lived at Lands End before Spanish settlement began in 1776. After the Gold Rush, entrepreneurs designed the new Cliff House as a fashionable resort for the wealthy. A private company constructed a brand new road called Point Lobos Avenue. By the 1860s, a horse-drawn stagecoach made the trip every Sunday from crowded downtown San Francisco out Lands End. During the 1880s, millionaire Adolph Sutro constructed a passenger steam train from downtown to Lands End for the affordable fare of 5¢.
The most-traveled trail in Lands End is the Coastal Trail, a section of the California Coastal Trail that follows the railbed of the old Cliff House Railway. This trail is handicap-accessible until the Mile Rock Overlook, and bike accessible until the Eagles Point steps. A spur trail takes users to Mile Rock Point and Mile Rock Beach, which offer views of the Golden Gate. Along the Coastal Trail, there is a hidden labyrinth at Eagle’s Point, constructed by local artist Eduardo Aguilera, overlooking Golden Gate Bridge. Other historic sites include numerous shipwrecks, which are visible at low tides from the Coastal Trail and Mile Rock. A visitor center, Lands End Lookout, opened on April 28, 2012.
Lands End gives room for a number of activities as well. The most common activities include: Picnicking, Biking, Dog Walking and Viewing Wildlife. Lands End is a great place to spot birds and more than 250 species, including Brandt’s cormorants, brown pelicans, Heermann’s gulls, red-winged blackbirds, Anna’s hummingbirds and chestnut-backed chickadees. When you turn your sights to the surf, you might see dolphins, seals, sea lions or a migrating whale.
Today, you can explore the remains of Sutro Baths and imagine the elegance of life here at the turn of the century. The baths became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 1973 and are still popular for the scenic and recreational values recognized by Adolph Sutro over 100 years ago. But for all its danger, its deterioration and overall uselessness in this day and age, the Sutro Baths are still magnificent. Lands End is not just breathtaking, it is also majestic. You will be in awe of its beauty. Even if you hate hiking, it is still a must-see. It is a natural wonder within a city, and totally worth visiting and soaking in at every opportunity you get.