• View of the Golden Gate Bridge, taken from the Marin Headlands, looking towards San Francisco at sunrise.

    Golden Gate

    National Recreation Area California

Sutro Baths History

historic photo of Sutro Baths
 

The Ambitious & 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 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. Overtime, 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 purse 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.

 
 
historic image of Sutro Baths interior
Interior image of Sutro Baths, circa 1900
photo courtesy of Gary Stark, The Cliff House Project
 
historic photo showing exhibits at Sutro Baths
At "Panorama of the World", visitors could enjoy exhibits on natural history and foreign cultures.
PARC, NPS
 
Colored-SB-Price-Collection - 250 pix
Visitors to the Sutro Baths had seven different temperature swimming pools to chose from.
Price Collection, PARC, NPS
 

For a collection of historic Sutro Baths articles, blue prints, historic photographs and films, please visit the Cliff House Project website.

 

Please visit the Plan Your Visit Lands End page to learn more visitor information.

Please visit the History and Culture Lands End page to learn more about the history of the overall site.

For more in-depth information, please down load the History and Significance of Adolph Sutro Historic District from the National Register Nomination Form (NPS, 2000) (pdf file, 120 kb)

Did You Know?

Coyote in Presidio of San Francisco.

In the spring of 2003, at least one pair of coyotes was seen repeatedly in the Presidio of San Francisco.