Sutro's Modern Ruins

Oct 25, 2011 at 12am

The Sutro Baths ruins have always been one of my favorite places in San Francisco. The landscape looks wildly different now than it did in 1896, when the Baths opened as the world's largest indoor swimming establishment. They were built by one-time SF mayor and wealthy entrepreneur Adolph Sutro, who also owned the neighboring Cliff House. Over the years, the area has also housed a carnival-themed attraction called Playland-at-the-Beach and an ice skating rink.

Visitors to the Sutro Baths were able to choose between seven pools that ranged in temperature. One was fresh water, while the other six held unheated salt water that recycled itself hourly by being pushed in by the nearby ocean. During low tides, a turbine pump would switch on to supplement the lack of water. The establishment also had a museum that housed all of Sutro's collectibles, which he amassed while traveling.

The old bath photos take a while to register. It's hard to believe that pools of this ilk could exist anywhere in the States — fascinating that San Francisco was the leader in such grandiosity. It seems ambitious and innovative for 19th century San Franciscans to be sliding and jumping into the Pacific Ocean. Sutro Baths took nearly seven decades to falter, finally closing due to maintenance and operating costs in 1966. The establishment then caught fire while being demolished.

Now all that's left are its eerie remains: a concrete grid where a dressing or locker room used to be, steps that lead you nowhere, a deep-cut tunnel, and a couple of the old pools, now murky, green, and still. The location seemed to be desirable real estate made for entertainment — now the biggest thrill you can get is watching it rapidly erode. SPUR is initiating a master plan to preserve the ecology of the site, for any interested in donating their time to keeping a piece of San Francisco history intact.

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Find out more at:

www.sutrobaths.com

www.sfmuseum.org/hist2/baths.html

www.outsidelands.org/sutro_baths.php

www.cliffhouseproject.com/environs/sutrobaths/sutro_baths.htm

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