August 2004 Photo of the ruins of the Sutro Baths, San Francisco California
In 1896, the Sutro Baths was opened to the public as the world's largest indoor swimming pool establishment. Built on the sleepy western side of San Francisco by wealthy entrepreneur and former mayor of San Francisco (1894-1896), Adolph Sutro, the breathtakingly vast glass, iron, wood, and cement structure was mostly hidden in, and literally filled, a small beach inlet below the Cliff House which was also owned by Adolph Sutro at the time. Both the Cliff House and the former Baths site are now a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and operated by the United States National Park Service.
A visitor to the baths not only had a choice of 7 different swimming pools, one fresh water and 6 salt water baths ranging in temperatures, but could visit a museum displaying Sutro's large and varied personal collection of artifacts from his travels, a concert hall, seating for 8,000, and, at one time, an ice skating rink. During high tides, water would flow directly into the pools from the nearby ocean, recycling the 2 million gallons 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 gallons a minute, recycling all the water in five hours.
The baths struggled for years, mostly due to the very high operating and maintenance costs, and eventually closed. A fire destroyed the building in 1966 shortly after, while in the process of being demolished. All that remains of the site are a labyrinth of cement skeletal remains, blocked off stairs and passageways, and a dark tunnel with a deep crevice in the middle. The Sutro Bath ruins are open to the public, but a warning sign advises strict caution, as visitors have been swept off by large waves and drowned at the site. Anton LaVey, self-professed founder of the Church of Satan, claimed shortly after the fire that he had placed a curse on the baths only months prior, saying that it would go out "with a bang." Recently, however, a relative of the owners revealed on an online forum that the Sutro Baths were quickly pushing the owners into bankruptcy and the fire was deliberately started in order to collect on insurance.
Currently, visitors coming to the Sutro Baths from the above parking lot are presented with a sign post that tells essentially nothing of what the site had once been. Inside one of the cement pits, however, someone took the time to scribble out about a paragraph apparently describing what Adolph Sutro had hoped to achieve in building the baths, but much of the writing has been covered by more recent graffiti.
Adolph Sutro's other notable associations: Sutro Tower, Mount Sutro, Sutro Heights
Sutro Bath Statistics
- Length of baths, 499.5 feet.
- Width of baths, 254.1 feet.
- Amount of glass used, 100,000 superficial ft.
- Iron in roof columns, 600 tons.
- Lumber, 3,500,000 feet.
- Concrete, 270,000 cubic feet.
- Seating capacity ampitheater, 3,700.
- Seating capacity promenade, 3,700.
- Holding capacity, 25,000.
- Salt water tanks, 6.
- Capacity of tanks, 1,804,962 gallons.
- Fresh water, plunge tank, 1.
- Toboggan slides in baths, 7.
- Swinging rings, 30.
- Spring boards, 1.
- Private dressing rooms, 517.
- Club rooms capacity, 1,110.
- Time required to fill tank by waves. 1 hour.
- Time required to fill tank by pump, 5 hours.
Statistics according to a 1912 article written by J.E. Van Hoosear of Pacific Gas and Electric (see full article in External Links: Sutro Baths then)
External Links: Sutro Baths then
- Comprehensive history of the Sutro Baths (http://www.outsidelands.org/sutro_baths.html) (Western Neighborhoods website)
- Beautiful high-resolution scans of postcards of the Sutro Baths (http://www.alamedainfo.com/postcards_of_san_francisco_3.htm) (AlamediaInfo.com)
- In search of Adolph Sutro: The eerie ruins of Sutro's Baths lead one writer on a historical odyssey (http://www.sfbg.com/SFLife/33/15/sutro.html)
- 1912 PG&E article about the Sutro Baths (http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist2/baths.html) (Virtual Museum of San Francisco website)
- A personal account of the Sutro Baths (http://americahurrah.com/SanFrancisco/Memories/sfmemSutroBaths.html)
- Photos of the Sutro Baths during its less than glorious years (http://www.sonic.net/%7Eplayland/sutro.html)
- Adolph Sutro's story written about the time of his death, discusses the creation of the Sutro Baths (http://www.sfmuseum.net/sutro/bio.html) (Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco)
- Featured prominently in 1958 movie The Lineup (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0051866/) (Internet Movie Database)
- Photos of Sutro Baths from the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection (http://sflib1.sfpl.org:82/search/?searchtype=d&searcharg=sutro+baths&SORT=D&extended=1&SUBMIT=Search)(San Francisco Public Library)
- Over 100 photos taken at the Sutro Baths, including interiors not seen at the other links (http://sflib1.sfpl.org:82/search/dsutro+baths/dsutro+baths/1%2C6%2C130%2CE/2exact&FF=dsutro+baths+districts+ocean+beach+interiors&1%2C20%2C/indexsort=-) and pictures taken immediately before (http://sflib1.sfpl.org:82/search/?searchtype=X&searcharg=Taken+the+day+the+baths+closed+forever&SORT=D&extended=0&SUBMIT=Search&searchlimits=&searchorigarg=XTaken%2Bthe%2Bday%2Bthe%2Bbaths%2Bclosed%2Bforever%26SORT%3DD), during (http://sflib1.sfpl.org:82/search/dsutro+baths/dsutro+baths/1%2C6%2C130%2CE/2exact&FF=dsutro+baths+districts+ocean+beach+fire+june+1966&1%2C6%2C/indexsort=-), and after the fire (http://sflib1.sfpl.org:82/search/dsutro+baths/dsutro+baths/1%2C6%2C130%2CE/2exact&FF=dsutro+baths+districts+ocean+beach+ruins&1%2C24%2C/indexsort=-).
External Links: Sutro Baths now
- Sutro Bath page at the National Park Service website (http://www.nps.gov/goga/clho/suba/)
- A fantastic starting point for all things related to the Sutro Baths (http://www.sutrobaths.com/)
- Current home of the Egyptian art exhibit formerly located at the Sutro Baths (http://www.sfsu.edu/~museumst/sutro/)
- Recent photos of the Sutro Baths (http://www.geocities.com/sfphototour/sutro_baths.html)
- An online posting by a relative of the last owners of the Sutro Baths, and sheds a little light on the fire that destroyed it in 1966 (http://www.outsidelands.org/cgi-bin/mboard/stories3/thread.cgi?59,0)
- The Sutro Bath ruins were featured briefly in the movie Harold and Maude (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067185/)
- Snapshots from the movie at the Sutro Baths (http://norcalmovies.com/HaroldAndMaude/)