San Francisco/Sutro Baths

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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.

Sutro Baths circa 1896


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

August 2004 Photo of the ruins of the Sutro Baths, San Francisco California
A view over the sprawling ruins of Sutro Baths

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).


See also

External links

Sutro Baths then

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

Snapshots from the movie at the Sutro Baths

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