San Francisco/Sutro Baths
The Sutro Baths were a large privately owned swimming pool complex in San Francisco built in the late 19th century. The building housing the baths burned down in 1966 and was abandoned. The ruins may still be visited.
On March 4, 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 reinforced concrete 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 six 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 US gallons (7,600 m³) 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 US gallons a minute (380 L/s), 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.
Currently, visitors coming to the Sutro Baths from the above parking lot are presented with a sign that describes the history of Sutro Baths starting from its construction and glamorous opening to the public in 1896. Another sign describes the later years of the site's history up until its demolition and complete destruction by fire in 1966. As one walks up out of the ruins toward the historic Cliff House, home to "Sutro’s Diner", "The Bistro", the "Terrace Room", and other dining/reception facilities, one can find other pictures, paintings, and relics from the golden age of Sutro Baths’ functional operation.
Additionally, inside one of the cement pits, someone took the time to scribble out 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.
Seal Rock is just offshore from the bath ruins.
Sutro Bath statistics
- Length of baths, 499.5 ft (152 m)
- Width of baths, 254.1 ft (77 m)
- Amount of glass used, 100,000 ft² (10,000 m²)
- Iron in roof columns, 600 tons
- Lumber, 3,500,000 ft (1067 km)
- Concrete, 270,000 ft³ (7,600 m³)
- Seating capacity amphitheater, 3,700
- Seating capacity promenade, 3,700
- Holding capacity, 25,000
- Salt water tanks, 6
- Capacity of tanks, 1,805,000 US gal (6,832 m³)
- 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).
Sutro Baths then
- Comprehensive history of the Sutro Baths (Western Neighborhoods website)
- Beautiful high-resolution scans of postcards of the Sutro Baths (AlamediaInfo.com)
- In search of Adolph Sutro: The eerie ruins of Sutro's Baths lead one writer on a historical odyssey
- 1912 PG&E article about the Sutro Baths (Virtual Museum of San Francisco website)
- A personal account of the Sutro Baths
- Photos of the Sutro Baths during its less than glorious years
- Adolph Sutro's story written about the time of his death, discusses the creation of the Sutro Baths (Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco)
- Photos of Sutro Baths from the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection(San Francisco Public Library)
- Over 100 photos taken at the Sutro Baths, including interiors not seen at the other links and pictures taken immediately before, during, and after the fire.
Sutro Baths now
- Sutro Bath page at the National Park Service website
- A fantastic starting point for all things related to the Sutro Baths
- Current home of the Egyptian art exhibit formerly located at the Sutro Baths
- Recent photos of the Sutro Baths
- 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
- UCSB graduate student allegedly drowned at the site in 2006 
- The Sutro Bath ruins were featured briefly in the movie Harold and Maude