Sutro Baths

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Sutro Baths circa 1896
The remains of the structure of the baths
A view over the ruins of Sutro Baths
Sutro Baths & surrounding Golden Gate NRA, 2013

The Sutro Baths were a large, privately owned swimming pool complex near Seal Rock in San Francisco, California, built in the late 19th century. The facility was financially unprofitable and is now in ruins. Lands around the site have been integrated into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.


On March 14, 1896, the Sutro Baths were opened to the public as the world's largest indoor swimming pool establishment. The baths were built on the western side of San Francisco by wealthy entrepreneur and former mayor of San Francisco (1894–1896) Adolph Sutro.

The structure filled a small beach inlet below the Cliff House, 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, operated by the United States National Park Service. The baths struggled for years, mostly due to the very high operating and maintenance costs. Shortly after closing, a fire in 1966 destroyed the building while it was in the process of being demolished. All that remains of the site are concrete walls, blocked off stairs and passageways, and a tunnel with a deep crevice in the middle.

Infrastructure and facilities[edit]

The following statistics are from a 1912 article written by J. E. Van Hoosear of Pacific Gas and Electric.[1] Materials used in the vast structure included 100,000 sq ft (9,300 m2) of glass, 600 tons of iron, 3,500,000 board feet (8,300 m3) of lumber, and 10,000 cu yd (7,600 m3) of concrete.

The baths were once serviced by a rail line, the Ferries and Cliff House Railroad, which ran along the cliffs of Lands End overlooking the Golden Gate. The route ran from the baths to a terminal at California Street and Central Avenue (now Presidio Avenue).

During high tides, water would flow directly into the pools from the nearby ocean, recycling the two 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.

Facilities included:

  • Six Salt water pools and one fresh water. The baths were 499.5 feet (152.2 m) long and 254.1 feet (77.4 m) wide for a capacity of 1,805,000 US gallons (6,830 m3). They were equipped with 7 slides, 30 swinging rings, and 1 spring board.
  • A museum displaying an extensive collection of stuffed and mounted animals, historic artifacts, and artwork, much of which he acquired from the Woodward's Gardens estate sale in 1894.[2]
  • A 3700 seat amphitheater, and club rooms with capacity for 1100.
  • 517 private dressing rooms.
  • An ice skating rink.

Appearances on film[edit]

Several films are stored by the Library of Congress as part of the American Memory collection and available for viewing online.

  • Sutro Baths, no. 1 and Sutro Baths, no. 2, filmed in 1897 by Thomas A. Edison, Inc.[3][4]
  • Panoramic view from a steam engine on the Ferries and Cliff House Railroad line route along the cliffs of Lands End, starting at the Sutro Baths depot, filmed in 1902 by Thomas A. Edison, Inc.[5]
  • Panoramic view from the beach below Cliff House at Sutro Baths, filmed in 1903 by American Mutoscope and Biograph Company.[6]

The 1958 film The Lineup was the only non-documentary film to use the fully built baths as a shooting location. The scenes were shot after Sutro Baths' conversion to an ice skating rink.[7]

The Sutro Bath ruins are featured in a scene in the 1971 film Harold and Maude in which Harold pretends to assault Maude while she acts the part of a war protester, in order to convince Harold's uncle (a high-ranking military man) that he is unfit for service. Maude "falls" down a hole in the ground and disappears after Harold grabs her protest sign and chases her with it, striking her and calling her various names such as "Commie!"

Sutro's: The Palace at Lands End is a 2011 documentary by Tom Wyrsch includes footage and photographs of the Baths, Sutro Railway, Cliff House, ice skating rink, Egyptian Mummy Museum, Musee Mecanique, and the Giggling Ghost.

Historic Sutro Baths in San Francisco, California is a 2012 short film featuring photographer Carol Highsmith shows the history and the ruins of the site.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ ""Pacific Service" Supplies the World’s Largest Baths". P.G.&E Magazine. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  2. ^ Peter Hartlaub, "Woodward's Gardens Comes to Life in New Book", San Francisco Chronicle (October 30, 2012)
  3. ^ "Sutro Baths, no. 1 / Thomas A. Edison, Inc.". Library of Congress American Memory Collection. Retrieved 2010-03-11. 
  4. ^ "Sutro Baths, no. 2 / Thomas A. Edison, Inc.". Library of Congress, American Memory Collection. Retrieved 2010-03-11. 
  5. ^ "Panoramic view of the Golden Gate / Thomas A. Edison, Inc.". Library of Congress, American Memory Collection. Retrieved 2010-03-11. 
  6. ^ "Panorama of beach and Cliff House / American Mutoscope and Biograph Company.". Library of Congress, American Memory Collection. Retrieved 2010-03-11. 
  7. ^ "Sutro Baths - Explore the Ruins". Retrieved 2010-03-11. 
  8. ^ Historic Sutro Baths in San Francisco, California (2012), Carol Highsmith, 3:17.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 37°46′48″N 122°30′49″W / 37.78000°N 122.51361°W / 37.78000; -122.51361