Adolph Sutro

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Adolph Sutro
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.
Resting placeHome of Peace Cemetery (Colma, California)
Political partyPeople's

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][2] 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 one of his brothers, Sali (né Emanuel Sali Sutro; 1827–1908), 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 a number of positions in San Francisco and eventually owned several tobacco shops.[7]

Sutro Tunnel[edit]

Entrance to Sutro Tunnel

In 1860, Sutro left San Francisco for Virginia City, Nevada after silver was found in the Comstock Lode with plans to continue selling cigars.[7] He soon devised a concept for a tunnel to drain water from the mines and eliminate the threat of flooding. This concept became 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part to William Ralston (1826–1875) of the Bank of California, who originally agreed to finance the project but later rescinded the offer.[10] Over time, Sutro found other investors, including miners in the area.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's support after a disaster at the Yellow Jacket Mine on April 7, 1869, allowing him to lobby the Miner's Union in support of the Sutro Tunnel[10] and begin construction on October 19, 1869.

According to historian Samuel Dickson (né Samuel Benjamin Dinkelspiel; 1889–1974), " ... 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, Adolph moved back to San Francisco. His brother Theodore Sutro took over the Sutro Tunnel Company. Theodore Sutro sold the Sutro Tunnel Company to Franklin Leonard, Sr., after Adolph's death.

Estate, baths, and home[edit]

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

Sutro's 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 generosity, such as opening an aquarium and an elaborate and beautiful, glass-enclosed entertainment complex called Sutro Baths in the Sutro District. 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 Ocean.

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, ice 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.[12]

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.

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 (25 ha) are the property of the University of California, San Francisco, and another 19 are property of the City of San Francisco.

Segregation at the baths[edit]

The Sutro Baths were segregated in the early years of their operation. In 1897, a black man named John Harris sued the Sutro Baths for refusing him entry because of his race. The case was tried in the San Francisco Superior Court, which ruled in Harris' favor.[13]

Destruction of baths[edit]

A fire destroyed the baths complex in 1966 and all that remains now are ruins. The fire was later determined to be arson. Developers, planning to turn the location into apartments, took their insurance money and left the property behind.

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 percent of the city's vote, the Populist gubernatorial candidate, J. V. Webster, received only 11 percent, considerably less than his state-wide showing.[14]

Sutro was quickly considered a failed mayor, ill-suited for political work, and did not provide any popularity boost to the Populist party.[citation needed]

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 and Sutro Heights Park. Sutro Baths became a skating rink and then was destroyed by a fire in 1966. The ruins of the baths (mostly the concrete foundations) are just north of the Cliff House. They are part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. (1894–1896)


In 1854, Sutro married Leah Harris (1832–1893).[15] They had seven children:

  1. Emma Laura Sutro, MD (1855–1938), who on March 27, 1883, married George Washington Merritt, MD (1855–1928)
  2. Rose Victoria Sutro (1858–1942), who in 1887 married Count Pio Alberto Morbio (1849–1911). One of their daughters, Marguerite Helen Morbio (1890–1972), had been married from 1916 to 1919 to French Army aviator and nobleman, Count Anselme de Mailly-Châlon (1887–1929), great-grandson of Adrien Augustin Almaric (fr) (1792–1878), Count of Mailly, Marquis of Haucourt and Nesle, prince of Orange
  3. Gustav Emmanuel Sutro (1859–1864)
  4. Kate Sutro (1862–1913), who married Moritz Nussbaum (1850–1915), an allopathic physician, anatomy scholar and Professor of Biology at the University of Bonn
  5. Charles Walter Sutro (1864–1936)
  6. Edgar Ernest Sutro (1866–1922)
  7. Clara Angela Sutro (1867–1924), who, on December 24, 1898, in Los Angeles, married Chicago attorney William John English (1845–1926), divorced him in 1912, and on July 7, 1915, in Paris, married Count Gilbert de Choiseul-Praslin (1882–1926), grandson of the French nobleman, Charles de Choiseul-Praslin (1805–1847), and son of Marie Elizabeth Forbes (1850–1932) – sister of Henry de Courcy Forbes (1849–1920). Clara and Gilbert divorced in 1921.[16][17][18][19][20][21]

Leah filed for divorce from Adolph in 1879 and the two officially separated on July 3, 1880. Shortly after Adolph's death in 1898, Clara Louisa Kluge (1863–1943) claimed to be his widow by way of common law marriage. She retained attorney Van R. Paterson (1849–1902) and prevailed in securing financial support for her two children that she claimed Adolph had fathered:

  1. Adolph Newton Sutro (1891–1981), who, in January 1926 in San Bernardino, married Olive Woodward Waibel (1901–1979)
  2. Adolphine Charlotte Sutro (1892–1974), who married Elliott Lazier Fullerton (1885–1932)[22]

A brother of Adolph, Otto Sutro (1833–1896), was an organist, conductor, and minor composer who was prominent in music in Baltimore, Maryland.[23] Otto's daughters, Rose Laura Sutro (1870–1957) and Ottilie Sutro (1872–1970), were an internationally acclaimed piano-duo team.

Another brother, Theodore Sutro (1845–1927), a New York City lawyer, married Florence Sutro (née Florence Edith Clinton; 1865–1906), a musician, painter, and founding president of National Federation of Women's Music Clubs on September 18, 1884, in Manhattan.

In New York City in 1874, two brothers of Adolph Sutro, Ludwig and Hugo Sutro, established Sutro Brothers, an enterprise for the manufacture of braids and similar articles, which in time grew to large proportions. Upon the incorporation, in 1888, the firm was renamed Sutro Brothers Braid Company.[24]

Cousins of Adolph Sutro, Charles and Gustav Sutro, founded Sutro & Company, a stockbroking company, in San Francisco in 1858. Sutro & Co. stayed independent until 1986 when it was bought by John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. There it was merged with Tucker Anthony to form Tucker Anthony Sutro, which in turn was bought by Royal Bank of Canada in 2001.[25][26]

Portrayal on TV[edit]

The actor Robert Argent played Sutro in the 1957 episode (season 5, episode 17), "The Man Who Was Never Licked" of the TV show Death Valley Days, hosted by Stanley Andrews. William Hudson was cast in the same episode as Lucky Baldwin, a powerful, 19th-century California businessman.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Historic photos capture former glory of Adolph Sutro's once-grand San Francisco west end compound". San Francisco Chronicle. November 17, 2016. Archived from the original on August 17, 2018. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  2. ^ a b 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). Archived (PDF) from the original on July 31, 2017. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  3. ^ American Jerusalem: Jews and the Making of San Francisco (transcribed text from a DVD), "Adolph Sutro (1830–1898)," Archived June 18, 2015, at the Wayback Machine National Center for Jewish Film (2013); OCLC 1001900907 (retrieved June 19, 2015)
  4. ^ American Biography: A New Cyclopedia (Vol. 5), William Richard Cutter (1847–1918) (ed.), "Sutro, Frederick Charles," American Historical Society, Inc. (1919), pps. 91–94; OCLC 29656824
  5. ^ Death Claims Adolph Sutro, Philanthropist," Archived August 17, 2018, at the Wayback Machine San Francisco Call, August 9, 1898 (retrieved August 17, 2018, via the California Digital Newspaper Collection at
  6. ^ Brand, Gregor (September 2, 2015). "Adolph Sutro". Archived from the original on December 9, 2018. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  7. ^ a b "Crazy Sutro: Engineer with tunnel vision – Tahoe Weekly". Tahoe Weekly. June 15, 2016. Archived from the original on May 6, 2018. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  8. ^ "Legacy of tunnel shared with local history buffs". Reno Gazette Journal. Archived from the original on March 15, 2022. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  9. ^ "The Sutro Tunnel Bill," Archived August 17, 2018, at the Wayback Machine Daily Alta California, July 16, 1866 (retrieved August 17, 2018, via the California Digital Newspaper Collection at
  10. ^ a b c d Tales of San Francisco, by Samuel Dickson (né Samuel Benjamin Dinkelspiel; 1889–1974), Stanford University Press (©1947, 1949, 1955; © renewed 1975, 1977, 1983, 1992); OCLC 1069286963, ISBN 0-8047-2097-5, 978-0-8047-2097-7 (re: "Bill Ralston")
    Book I: "San Francisco is Your Home"
    Part 2: "The Comstock, the Railroad, and Champaign"
    Chapter 11: "Adolph Sutro," pps. 85–92 ("Ralson on p. 87)
    Book II: "San Francisco Kaleidoscope"
    Part 2: "The Adolescent City"
    Chapter 10: "Ralston and the Subtreasury," pps. 349–358
    Chapter 11: "Asbury Harpending," p. 359
  11. ^ Deach, Ben. "Silver State Sights: The Sutro Tunnel". Archived from the original on August 17, 2018. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  12. ^ Hartlaub, Peter (October 29, 2012). "Woodward's Gardens comes to life in book". SFGATE. Archived from the original on January 21, 2022. Retrieved March 15, 2022.
  13. ^ Ellinson, Elaine (April 4, 2018). "John Harris Sues Adolph Sutro for Discrimination". NPS. Retrieved April 26, 2023.
  14. ^ Saxton, Alexander (1965). "San Francisco Labor and the Populist and Progressive Insurgencies". Pacific Historical Review. 34 (4): 421–438. doi:10.2307/3636353. ISSN 0030-8684. JSTOR 3636353.
  15. ^ McLaughlin, Mark (June 15, 2016). "Crazy Sutro: Engineer with tunnel vision". Tahoe Weekly. Archived from the original on May 6, 2018. Retrieved May 5, 2018.
  16. ^ Holmes, Eugenia Kellogg (August 18, 2017). Adolph Sutro: A Brief Story of a Brilliant Life. Andesite Press. p. 22. ISBN 9781375435864. Retrieved April 6, 2021.
  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. Archived from the original on May 6, 2018. Retrieved May 5, 2018. 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. Archived from the original on May 6, 2018. Retrieved May 5, 2018. 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. Archived from the original on May 6, 2018. Retrieved May 5, 2018.
  21. ^ "Edgar Sutro Secretly Weds a Beautiful Cloak Model". San Francisco Call. March 5, 1907. Archived from the original on May 6, 2018. Retrieved May 5, 2018.
  22. ^ "Mrs. Clara Kluge-Sutro Secures Recognition of Her Children's Claim to Part of the Estate," San Francisco Examiner, Vol. 72, No. 115, April 25, 1901, p. 1 (accessible via; subscription required)
  23. ^ "Death of Otto Sutro". San Francisco Call. January 20, 1896. Archived from the original on May 6, 2018. Retrieved May 5, 2018.
  24. ^ Cutter, William Richard (1919). American Biography, A New Cyclopedia. Vol. 5. p. 92. Retrieved November 4, 2022.
  25. ^ LIFE AND DEATH OF GUSTAV SUTRO, San Francisco Call, Volume 81, Number 103, 13 March 1897
  26. ^ Sinton, Peter (October 14, 2001). "Fading Glory / Venerable name in finance is about to disappear as Sutro & Co. is bought by Canadian bank". Retrieved November 5, 2022.
  27. ^ "The Man Who Was Never Licked on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. Archived from the original on August 31, 2021. Retrieved August 25, 2018.


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

Further reading[edit]

  • Robert E. Stewart, Jr. and M.F. Stewart: Adolph Sutro: A Biography, Howell-North Books, 1962
  • The Western Jewish History Center of the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley, California has a large collection of papers relating to Adolph Sutro and the Sutro Tunnel.
  • The Sutro Library in J. Paul Leonard Library at San Francisco State University in San Francisco, houses Adolph Sutro's impressive rare book collection, as well as local history resources and the largest genealogical collection west of Salt Lake City.

External links[edit]