Sutro Baths History
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Vestiges of Sutro Baths
Did You Know?
Historical archaeologists often turn to ethnographic artwork to learn more about material culture.