Unlike the better-known ruins of Sutro Baths, the abandoned Fleishhacker Pool lay in relative obscurity at the other end of the Great Highway, off to the side of the San Francisco Zoo parking lot. What was left of it burned down a few years ago, but I was able to explore and document it with my 10mm fisheye and 50mm camera before it disappeared. From the boarded-up windows to the chained door handles to the buffed-out smattering of graffiti, it was obvious that no one had paid much attention to the place for some time. Even walking right up to it, finding an entry was difficult due to years of sand piling up on what were once long ramps.
When it was opened in 1925, the Fleishhacker Pool was the largest saltwater heated pool in the U.S. For 25 cents people could rent a bathing suit and towel and use the pool facilities. After a long period of running as a public saltwater pool, the water output system was damaged in a winter storm. Unable to repair the pump system, the city converted the pool to freshwater – a short-lived experiment as the pool was too big to keep the freshwater clean. Shortly after conversion, the pool was closed and after years of remaining vacant it was deeded over to the zoo. The pool itself was eventually filled in and is now the parking lot for the SF Zoo, but the pool house was simply closed up and left vacant for decades. Without blueprints, I was able to walk through the ruins and use architectural clues to determine the previous use of the rooms before they were left to graffiti artists and people looking for a dry spot to sleep.
Cashier's Booth & Towel Area
After strolling past the thousand-foot-long pool, you paid your 25 cents and picked up your suit and towel rental from the service area directly behind the cashier’s booth. In the room with the shelves was what appeared to be a dumbwaiter system connected to a large room upstairs presumed to be the laundry facilities.
In the back of the towel room was a corridor leading to a basement door. Probably the most nerve-racking part of this whole exploration was entering the pitch-black room that contained the massive boiler used to heat the saltwater. The size of a large modern truck, this boiler could heat 2,800 gallons of water from 60F to 75F in one minute. Seawater was pumped in from the Pacific Ocean via a large pump and pipe system.
Ladies' Changing Area
The south wing of the pool house was divided between an area with several private changing rooms for women with children, and a large open changing area at the very end. By the time I explored the place, much of the internal drop ceilings and interior walls had rotted away or had been destroyed due to vandalism.
Gentlemen's Changing Area
Located on the north end of the pool house, through an arched hallway, was a large open changing area. Shower rooms clustered at one end near the hallway, with toilet rooms on the other. A lack of family changing rooms or permanent private partitioning of any kind indicates that this area was for men and boys. Instead of only one shower area with private stalls, there were at least four communal shower rooms, and no private shower facilities at all.
Heading back along the tunnel from the changing rooms you could turn into a wide courtyard that was partially shaded by two wings upstairs, but also open to the outdoors in the center of the courtyard. For years the pool house was filled with some of the remaining furniture and piles of lockers, but at some point in the early 2000s it was all removed. Here, it contains just trash and a few wayward branches.
I can’t be certain this was a dining hall, but the double-open-room layout and banquet with shelving all point to a classic buffet-style space. Another clue was the smaller narrow hallway linking to what seemed to be a large kitchen in the center of the building, far different than the wide hallway leading to a grandiose stairway of the entry at the other end, including a small cashier’s room at the foot of the stairs.
Meeting Hall and Offices
Along the eastern wall of the second floor ran a long hall probably used for meetings, awards, and community gatherings.
The center of the pool house contained what appeared to be a large laundry room with dumbwaiter system to the lower floor and a large kitchen. There are very few photos of the kitchen as I often encountered people in that space and wished to preserve their privacy. The kitchen space contained a large vented area with a hood structure still existing where presumably a large oven range once stood.
The Fleishhacker Pool caught fire on December 1, 2012, and the ruins were demolished not long after. Today, all that remains are the door frames of the main entryway, which are to be incorporated into a park in the near future.
Hero photo from the Greg Gaar Collection