The statistics of Sutro Baths are impressive today, but by 1890s standards they must have been staggering: six heated saltwater pools, an ice-cold freshwater pool, 517 dressing rooms, three restaurants, and a capacity of 25,000 patrons at a time. The sprawling structure consumed 3,500,000 tons of lumber, 270,000 cubic feet of concrete, and 600 tons of iron beams and columns. The entire structure was covered by a three acre glass canopy, much of it tinted in colors so rainbow patterns would dance over the swimmers and spectators below. The large pool in the foreground of this old postcard wasn’t intended for swimming. Instead, it was a settling pond for wave water captured in a nearby catch basin. The seawater was filtered and heated in the powerhouse at left before being pumped into the swimming pools beneath the glass arches. It was claimed that wave action could fill the bathing tanks in just one hour. The Cliff House beyond the Baths is the 1909 structure erected by Adolph’s daughter, Dr. Emma Sutro Merritt. However, close examination of this specific photograph shows that the building was merely painted into the photo! Other variants of this popular postcard view show the 1896 Cliff House in the same location. Someone must have decided it was cheaper to retouch the original photo than re-shoot the photograph again.
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