Sutro Tower

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Sutro Tower
Sutro Tower viewed from Grandview Park in San Francisco
Location within San Francisco
Location within San Francisco
Location within San Francisco
General information
Type Radio mast
Location San Francisco, California
Address 1 La Avanzada Drive
Clarendon Heights
Coordinates 37°45′19″N 122°27′10″W / 37.7552°N 122.4528°W / 37.7552; -122.4528
Elevation 254.2 m (834 ft)
Completed 1973
Owner Sutro Tower, Inc.
Height 297.8 m (977 ft)
Technical details
Structural system Truss tower

Sutro Tower is a 297.8 m (977 ft) three-pronged antenna tower near Clarendon Heights in San Francisco, California. Rising from a hill between Twin Peaks and Mount Sutro, it is a prominent part of the city skyline and a landmark for city residents and visitors.


Before the construction of Sutro Tower, television reception in San Francisco was spotty because the many hills of the city would block the line-of-sight television signal. The great height of the new tower helped to resolve that problem. Transmitters had been scattered throughout the Bay Area, including at San Bruno Mountain, Mt. Allison, Monument Peak, and Mt. Diablo. By having all the main Bay Area television station transmitters in one location, reception was improved by allowing a receiving antenna pointed in a single direction to receive all those stations rather than a subset.

Local residents opposed the tower even before it was completed, including criticism of the aesthetic effect the tower would have on the rest of San Francisco. San Francisco writer Herb Caen once wrote, "I keep waiting for it to stalk down the hill and attack the Golden Gate Bridge."[4] Acknowledging both displeasure and affection for its undeniable prominence on the city's skyline, it is sometimes referred to light-heartedly as the Sutro Monster[5] or Space Claw.[6][7]

When first built, the long legs of the tower were illuminated at night with long tubes of white light that looked like long fluorescent tubes. However, public outcry resulted in the lights being removed soon after they were turned on.[citation needed]

In Popular Culture[edit]

Despite the initial revulsion of some residents, Sutro Tower is now recognized by many as a Bay Area icon, it appears in local art, television shows, and movies as one of the architectural symbols of the city. The tower is featured in video games, business logos and on clothing and even tattoos. The U.S. band Information Society used it on the cover of their album 'Don't Be Afraid'. A local entertainment guide,, uses it as a logo, as do the collaborative art game SFZero and the Expose SF art competition.


Tower, including base

Construction commenced in 1971 by Kline Tower of Columbia, South Carolina, and the tower was completed in 1973, with the first transmissions on July 4, 1973. Approximately 3,750 m3 (132,000 cu ft) of concrete were used to make the foundation of the 3.7 million pound (1,700 ton) tower. Earthquake proofing includes ballasting two thirds of the weight of the structure below ground, resulting in a center of gravity at sixteen feet below ground level. It is used to transmit the signals of eleven television stations and four FM radio stations and for various other communications services.

The tower is owned by Sutro Tower Inc., which in turn is owned by a consortium of the four major television broadcasters in San Francisco at the time of its construction: KTVU (previously owned by Cox Enterprises, now owned by Fox Television Stations); KRON-TV (owned by the San Francisco Chronicle at the time of the tower's completion, now owned by Media General); KPIX (a former Westinghouse Broadcasting property, now owned by CBS); and KGO-TV (an ABC-owned station). Sutro Tower also leases space to other Bay Area radio and television stations, including PBS outlet KQED; independent station KOFY-TV; and KBCW, a sister station to KPIX.

Three other major Bay Area TV stations are unable to be located at Sutro Tower—the NBC-owned duopoly of KNTV and KSTS; and KTVU's duopoly partner KICU-TV. KNTV, which assumed the area's NBC affiliation from KRON-TV in 2002, relocated its transmitter from Loma Prieta Peak to San Bruno Mountain, five miles south of Sutro Tower; KSTS and KICU-TV transmit from east of Fremont. Those locations allow these stations to maintain primary coverage over San Jose and the South Bay—San Jose is the city of license for all three stations.

Named after Adolph Sutro, a businessman and former mayor of San Francisco who had a mansion located about 100 feet away from where the tower is now located, it is built on one of the highest peaks in the city. The tower stands 297.8 m (977 ft) above ground and 552 m (1,811 ft) above sea level. It is the tallest structure in the city, surpassing the 258.4 m (848 ft) Transamerica Pyramid by more than 39 m (128 ft). The old site of the Sutro Mansion, and thus the land on which the tower stands, is owned by Adolph Sutro's descendants.[citation needed]


Night view
Seen above the coastal fog

The facility is accessible only by authorized vehicles. The area near the site offers beautiful panoramic viewpoints of San Francisco. There is a platform near the top of the tower, 232 m (761 ft) above ground and 486.2 m (1,595 ft) above sea level. Only authorized maintenance workers can access the tower via a small two-person elevator that runs inside the west tower enclosed leg. There is no public access within the Sutro Tower property lines.

On a clear day, the tower can be seen from the East Bay peak of Mount Diablo and is sometimes the only part of San Francisco seen above the coastal fog when it is blown inland, typically on summer mornings and evenings.



TV stations that transmit from Sutro Tower include the following:

Callsign Virtual Channel Physical Channel Affiliation
KTVU 2 44 Fox
KRON 4 38 MyNetworkTV
KOFY 20 19 Ind.
KMTP 32 33 Multilingual Ind.
KCNS 38 39 MundoFox
KBCW 44 45 The CW
KCSM 60 43 Public Ind.
KFSF 66 34 UniMás


FM stations that transmit from Sutro Tower include the following:

Callsign Frequency Format Owner
KOIT-FM 96.5 Lite Rock Entercom
KSOL-FM 98.9 Regional Mexican Univision
KOSF-FM 103.7 Classic Hits Clear Channel
KFOG-FM 104.5 Triple-A Cumulus Media

In popular culture[edit]

The tower is an important presence in the 1977 San Francisco horror novel Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber.

The video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, set in a fictionalized San Francisco, contains a radio tower that bears a striking resemblance to Sutro Tower. Versions of the tower are also seen in Midway's 1997 game San Francisco Rush and Need for Speed Underground 2.

The MMORPG Defiance includes Sutro Tower as the location of the mission Turret Turnabout.


  1. ^ Sutro Tower at Emporis
  2. ^ Sutro Tower at SkyscraperPage
  3. ^ Sutro Tower at Structurae
  4. ^ Herb Caen. "Sutro Tower Press Coverage". Retrieved 1 September 2010. 
  5. ^ Retrieved 30 April 2013.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ Retrieved 30 April 2013.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ "Flickr: Photos of The Space Claw". 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]