Now And Then: Lands End

Ghost of the Golden Gate: Lands End & Sutro Baths

Since 1863, visitors have flocked to San Francisco’s western shore to enjoy sweeping ocean views. The concrete ruins just north of the Cliff House are the remains of the grand Sutro Baths. You can find these historic sites on the north end of Ocean Beach, where Geary Boulevard and the Great Highway converge.

Click and drag center circle back and forth, to compare then and now image.
 
A train passing along the coast person swinging at golf ball
Ted Barone NPS
Golden Gate National Recreation Area Park Archives 2316
Ferries and Cliff House Railroad Steam Train

What is now the 16th fairway at Lincoln Park Golf Course was once a railway Completed in 1888, “Cliff Rail” was Adolf Sutro’s vision for affordable, convenient transportation from downtown San Francisco to Sutro Heights and the Cliff House. The fare was 5 cents each direction.



 
cars parked along the cliff house on a cliff
Ted Barone NPS
Golden Gate National Recreation Area Park Archives 2316

Ocean Beach & Seal Rock House from Cliff House

By the middle of the 1850s, horseback riders and hikers could reach Point Lobos on several trails across six miles of sand dunes. They could also visit Ocean House which was located four miles south a the end of the Mission Dolores trail to the beach.




 
sutro baths now sutro baths postcard
Ted Barone NPS
Golden Gate National Recreation Area Park Archives 3369

Cliff House and Sutro Baths Postcard from North

Sutro’s first construction in Naiad Cove was an aquarium. He built a semi-circular wall 15 feet thick to create a basin. Water was let into the basin through an 8 foot high tunnel, 153 feet long cut through the adjacent cliff. The tunnel allowed ocean water and small marine animals to pour into the basin at high tide, becoming visible at low tide. It was completed in September, 1887.

 




 
sutro baths now sutro baths on fire
Ted Barone NPS
Golden Gate National Recreation Area Park Archives 2303

Sutro Baths Burning 1966

In June, 1966, with demolition underway, the Sutro Baths complex burned to the ground. Thousands of people came to watch the blaze. It had been sold to Robert Fraser in 1964. He planned to raze the Baths and build a 200 unit apartment complex and restaurant.




 
a parking lot along the ocean a bustling sidewalk
Ted Barone NPS
Golden Gate National Recreation Area Park Archives 3391.006

Sutro Baths Exterior 1958

Sutro Baths operated as a swimming center until 1937 when it was partially converted to an ice skating rink. In 1951, Sutro’s descendents sold the property to George Whitney, then owner of the Cliff House and Playland-at-the-Beach. He converted all the swimming tanks to one large ice skating complex.




 
a beach people crossing a bridge at the beach
Ted Barone NPS
Golden Gate National Recreation Area Park Archives 2316

Flag Rock 1903

The cove where Sutro Baths was eventually located was originally called “Naiad Cove” by American Settlers. The area became part of a Mexican land grant, Rancho Punta de Lobos (Wolf Point Ranch) from 1822 to 1848 when it became part of San Francisco. It took three attempts between 1887 and 1889 to build the breakwater for Sutro Baths. Finally successful, the breakwater is 400 feet long, 20 feet deep, 25 feet wide at the top, 75 feet wide at the base, and contains 450,000 cubic feet of rock.
 




 
three people walk around a corner a train moves along a corner
Ted Barone NPS
Golden Gate National Recreation Area Park Archives 2361

Ferries and Cliff House Railway

The Cliff Line ran from California Street and Presidio Avenue (cable cars ran from downtown to that station), west on California to 33rd Ave and then turned north to run around the old cemeteries, along Sutro’s land. It’s western terminus was at 48th and Point Lobos Avenues, about three blocks from the Cliff House.




 
a man walking his dog rail station by the ocean
Ted Barone NPS
Golden Gate National Recreation Area Park Archives 40083
Land’s End Station Postcard

Several rail stations were located along the edge of Land’s End, overlooking the Golden Gate Strait. Much like today, tourists loved to stop and enjoy the view. The ground underlying the Land’s End Station (colorized photo postcard) eventually collapsed, destroying the building.
 



 
sutro baths now sutro baths then
Ted Barone NPS
Golden Gate National Recreation Area Park Archives 2316

Cliff House/Sutro Baths Sky Tram

Sutro envisioned an amusement park as part of his “Pleasure Grounds”, including “lifeboats strung on a wire cable” which later appeared as the Sky Tram constructed in 1955 that carried passengers between the Cliff House and Point Lobos.
 




 
a house on a grassy hill a house overlooking the ocean
Ted Barone NPS
Golden Gate National Recreation Area Park Archives 2316

First Cliff House and Outside Lands 1863

The first Cliff House was opened in 1863 in the area formerly known as “Outside Lands”, the westernmost tip of San Francisco. It was considered remote and inaccessible although there were several trails that crossed the six miles of sand dunes. With the completion of Point Lobos Avenue in mid-1863, travel by carriage became possible. The carriage travel and nightly lodging at the inn was expensive so accommodated only affluent guests including such prominent San Franciscans as the Crockers, Hearsts, Stanfords, Vandewaters, and Lathams.




 
a parking lot a busy museum front
Ted Barone NPS
Golden Gate National Recreation Area Park Archives 2316

Sutro Baths and Museum

Sutro Baths opened in March, 1896 with it’s classic Greek portal. It provided a healthy, recreational and inexpensive swimming facility with 1.7 million gallons of water in seven swimming pools at various temperatures, slides, trapezes, springboards and a high dive. It could accommodate 10,000 people at one time. There were band concerts, talent shows, and restaurants, natural history museums, and art galleries.




 
a rock overlooking the beach a rock overlooking the beach
Ted Barone NPS
Golden Gate National Recreation Area Park Archives 2316

Ocean Beach 1865

Intrepid travelers rode horses or walked across the miles of trails through the sand dunes to get to Ocean Beach and the “Outside Lands”. Opening of the first Cliff House and Point Lobos Road in 1863 made the voyage a bit easier.




Last updated: July 23, 2018

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