Sutro Baths

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

Sutro Baths circa 1896
The remains of the structure of the baths
A view over the ruins of Sutro Baths
Close view at northern end of ruins, August 2004

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.

Before it burned to the ground, 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. The cause of the fire was arson. Shortly afterwards, the developer left San Francisco and claimed insurance money.[citation needed]

Media is 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.[1][2]
  • 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.[3]
  • Panoramic view from the beach below Cliff House at Sutro Baths, filmed in 1903 by American Mutoscope and Biograph Company.[4]

Infrastructure and facilities[edit]

The following statistics are from a 1912 article written by J. E. Van Hoosear of Pacific Gas and Electric.[5] Materials used in the 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 saltwater pools and one freshwater pool. 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 springboard.
  • A museum displaying an extensive collection of stuffed and mounted animals, historic artifacts, and artwork, much of which Sutro acquired from the Woodward's Gardens estate sale in 1894.[6]
  • A 2700 seat amphitheater, and club rooms with capacity for 1100.
  • 517 private dressing rooms.
  • An ice skating rink.

See also[edit]


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

External links[edit]