Adolph Sutro

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Adolph Sutro
Adolph Sutro by Brady.jpg
24th Mayor of San Francisco
In office
January 7, 1895 – January 3, 1897
Preceded byLevi Richard Ellert
Succeeded byJames D. Phelan
Personal details
Adolph Heinrich Joseph Sutro

(1830-04-29)April 29, 1830
Aachen, Prussia
DiedAugust 8, 1898(1898-08-08) (aged 68)
San Francisco, California, U.S.
Political partyPeople's
Spouse(s)Clara Kluge
Leah Harris
Children4 daughters
3 sons

Adolph Heinrich Joseph Sutro (April 29, 1830 – August 8, 1898) was a German-American engineer, politician and philanthropist who served as the 24th mayor of San Francisco from 1895 until 1897.[1] Born a German Jew, he moved to Virginia City, Nevada and made a fortune at the Comstock Lode. Several places in San Francisco bear his name in remembrance of his life and contributions to the city.[2]

Early life[edit]

Born to a Jewish family[3] in Aachen, Rhine Province, Prussia (today North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany), Sutro was the oldest of eleven children of Rosa (Warendorff) and Emanuel Sutro.[4] He spent his youth working in his father's cloth factory and at school.[5] After his father's death, he and his brother Sali began running the cloth factory. The Prussian rebellion in 1848 caused the family to leave for America in 1850 and settle in Baltimore.[6] Soon after, Adolph left for California and arrived in San Francisco on November 21, 1851. Adolph held multiple positions in San Francisco and eventually owned several tobacco shops.[7]

Sutro Tunnel[edit]

In 1860, Sutro left San Francisco for Virginia City, Nevada after silver was found in Comstock Lode with plans to continue selling cigars.[7] However, he soon came up with an idea for a tunnel to drain the water from the mines to remove the threat of flooding. This idea would become known as the Sutro Tunnel.[8]

In 1865 Sutro incorporated the Sutro Tunnel Company and was granted an exclusive charter to build the tunnel by the U.S. Congress in 1866.[9] The project encountered financial difficulties, due in part to William Ralston of the Bank of California, who originally agreed to finance the project but later rescinded the offer.[10] Over time, Sutro found other investors, including miners in the area. Sutro won miners' support after a disaster at the Yellow Jacket Mine on April 7, 1869 allowed him to lobby the Miner's Union in support of the Sutro Tunnel[10] and construction began on October 19, 1869.

According to historian Samuel Dickson, "... Sutro set off blasts of dynamite, ... leading the way for tunnel diggers" during the tunnel's construction[10] The tunnel was completed in 1878 and made Sutro the King of Comstock because it could drain four million gallons of water daily[11] and was rented by mine owners at an average of $10,000 a day.[10]

After a year of running the tunnel, issues arose between Sutro and his partners, leading to his departure in 1879. Soon after Sutro left the company, the output of Comstock Lode dropped along with stock prices.[12]

Estate, baths, and home[edit]

Adolph Sutro & Ladies of National Medical Convention inside the Sutro Baths, June 8, 1894.

His wealth was increased by large real estate investments in San Francisco, where he became an entrepreneur and public figure after returning from the Comstock in 1879. These land investments included Mount Sutro, Land's End (the area where Lincoln Park and the Cliff House are today), and Mount Davidson, which was called "Blue Mountain" at the time.

Sutro in his library

Sutro opened his own estate to the public and was heralded as a populist for various astute acts of public munificence, such as opening an aquarium and an elaborate and beautiful, glass-enclosed entertainment complex called Sutro Baths. Though the Baths were not opened until 1896, Sutro had been developing and marketing the project for years, attempting four separate times to insulate the site from waves using sea walls, the first three of which collapsed into the Pacific. In 1896, Adolph Sutro built a new Cliff House, a seven story Victorian Chateau, called by some "the Gingerbread Palace," below his estate on the bluffs of Sutro Heights. This was the same year work began on the famous Sutro Baths, which included six of the largest indoor swimming pools north of the Restaurant that included a museum, skating rink and other pleasure grounds. Great throngs of San Franciscans arrived on steam trains, bicycles, carts and horse wagons on Sunday excursions. In 1894, Sutro, in preparation for the opening of the Cliff House, bought a large part of the collection of Woodward's Gardens, a combination zoo, amusement park, aquarium, and art gallery which had closed in 1891.[13]

Sutro House

The Baths were saltwater and springwater pools, heated to varying degrees, and surrounded by a concert hall and museums stocked with treasures that Sutro had collected in his travels and from Woodward's Gardens. The baths became very popular despite their remote location, across the open dunes to the west of the populated areas of the city. This popularity was partly due to the low entry fee for visiting the Baths and riding the excursion railroad he built to reach them. The railroad grade still exists as a walking trail along the Land's End cliffs, maintained by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Sutro managed a great increase in the value of his outlying land investments as a direct result of the development burst that his vacationers' railroad spawned. He also increased the value of his lands by planting his property at Mount Sutro with saplings of fast-growing eucalyptus. This occurred at the same time as city Supervisors granted tax-free status to "forested" lands within city limits. Small fragments of the forest still exist. The largest is at Mount Sutro, where 61 acres (250,000 m2) are the property of the University of California, San Francisco, and another 19 are property of the City of San Francisco.

Mayor (1894–1896)[edit]

Sutro's reputation as a provider of diversions and culture for the average person led the politically weak and radical Populist Party to draft him to run for mayor on their ticket. He won on an anti-big business platform, inveighing against the tight grip that the Southern Pacific Railroad had over local businesses. According to historian Alexander Saxton:

Sutro was not exactly a Populist, but he was enormously popular, and especially with workingmen, since he was thought to have defended the honest miner of the Comstock against the "interests." More recently he had served San Francisco as philanthropist on the grand scale and especially had endeared himself by fighting the Southern Pacific's grip on the city streetcar system. Sutro would have won on any ticket, and he was in fact elected by a landslide. It is clear however that his victory represented a non-partisan tribute to a very highly esteemed old man rather than a mass conversion to Populist principle: for while Sutro polled 50 per cent of the city's vote, the Populist gubernatorial candidate, J. V. Webster, received only 11 per cent, considerably less than his state-wide showing.[14]

He was quickly considered a failed mayor, ill suited for political work, and did not provide any popularity boost to the Populist party.

At the time of his death, in 1898, his fortune was extensive and his legal affairs in disarray. As a result, his heirs fought bitterly over his holdings.

Many of Sutro's gifts to the city of San Francisco still exist and bear his name, such as Mount Sutro, originally Mount Parnassus (a lower hill nearby is the location of the Sutro Tower), and Sutro Heights. Sutro Baths became a skating rink and then was destroyed by a fire in 1966. The ruins of the baths (mostly the cement foundations) are just north of the Cliff House. They are part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. (1894-1896)


In the 1850s, he married Leah Harris;[15] they had six children: Rosa Sutro Morbio (married to Count Pio Alberto de Morbio), Kate Sutro Nussbaum (married to professor Moritz Nussbaum), Dr. Emma L. Merritt (married to Dr. George Washington Merritt), Clara Angela Sutro English (married to Chicago attorney William J. English), Charles W. Sutro, and Edgar Sutro.[16][17][18][19][20][21]

His brother was Otto Sutro, an organist, conductor and minor composer who was very prominent in musical life in Baltimore, Maryland.[22] His nieces (Otto's daughters) were Rose and Ottilie Sutro, the first recognised piano-duo team.

The actor Robert Argent played Sutro in the 1957 episode, "The Man Who Was Never Licked" of the syndicated television anthology series, Death Valley Days, hosted by Stanley Andrews. William Hudson was cast in the same episode as Lucky Baldwin, a powerful 19th century California businessman.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Historic photos capture former glory of Adolph Sutro's once grand San Francisco west end compound". SFGate. November 17, 2016. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  2. ^ Delgado, James. "The History and Significance of the Adolph Sutro Historic District excerpts from the National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form prepared in 2000" (PDF). Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  3. ^ American Jerusalem: "Jews and the Making of San Francisco - Adolph Sutro (1830–1898)" retrieved June 19, 2015
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ "DEATH CLAIMS ADOLPH SUTRO, PHILANTHROPIST — San Francisco Call 9 August 1898 — California Digital Newspaper Collection". Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  6. ^ Brand, Gregor (September 2, 2015). "Adolph Sutro". Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  7. ^ a b "Crazy Sutro: Engineer with tunnel vision - Tahoe Weekly". Tahoe Weekly. June 15, 2016. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  8. ^ "Legacy of tunnel shared with local history buffs". Reno Gazette Journal. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  9. ^ "THE SUTRO TUNNEL BILL. — Daily Alta California 16 July 1866 — California Digital Newspaper Collection". Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  10. ^ a b c d Dickson, Samuel (July 1, 1992). Tales of San Francisco. Stanford University Press. ISBN 9780804720977.
  11. ^ Deach, Ben. "Silver State Sights: The Sutro Tunnel". Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  12. ^ "Adolph Sutro". Immigrant Entrepreneurship. German Historical Institute. 2018. Retrieved August 17, 2018.CS1 maint: others (link)
  13. ^ Peter Hartlaub, "Woodward's Gardens Comes to Life in New Book", San Francisco Chronicle (October 30, 2012)
  14. ^ Alexander Saxton, "San Francisco labor and the populist and progressive insurgencies." Pacific Historical Review (1965): 421-438. online
  15. ^ McLaughlin, Mark (June 15, 2016). "Crazy Sutro: Engineer with tunnel vision". Tahoe Weekly.
  16. ^ Holmes, Eugenia Kellogg (August 18, 2017). Adolph Sutro: A Brief Story of a Brilliant Life. Andesite Press. p. 22. ISBN 9781375435864.
  17. ^ Hountalas, Mary Germain (August 11, 2009). The San Francisco Cliff House. Ten Speed Press. p. 59. ISBN 9781580089951.
  18. ^ "Moved from Union Square". The New Fillmore. June 28, 2016. Emma Sutro Merritt was the daughter of Adolph Sutro, San Francisco’s 24th mayor...There she met her future husband, George Washington Merritt. After spending time in Paris at the Ecole des Medicin, the couple was married in London in 1883.
  19. ^ "Miss Clara Sutro Will Be Married Today". San Francisco Call. December 25, 1898. The wedding of Miss Clara Sutro, daughter of the late Adolph Sutro, to William J. English, will be solemnized at Los Angeles this afternoon by Bishop Montgomery of the Roman Catholic Church.
  20. ^ "Charles W. Sutro, 71, Financier, Is Dead; Son of Ex-San Francisco Mayor and Owner of Cliff House-Last Head of Family". The New York Times. April 27, 1936.
  21. ^ "Edgar Sutro Secretly Weds a Beautiful Cloak Model". San Francisco Call. March 5, 1907.
  22. ^ "Death of Otto Sutro". San Francisco Call. January 20, 1896.
  23. ^ "The Man Who Was Never Licked on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved August 25, 2018.


  • Samuel Dickson, Tales of San Francisco (Stanford University Press, 1957)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]