A later facade after the baths were redecorated in a "tropical" motif.
Adolph Sutro, a mining engineer who made his fantastic fortune in the Comstock Lode
Silver Mine, bought acreage at the western headlands of San Francisco and built his home there in
1881. Fifteen years later, on a three-acre parcel, he built the Sutro Baths. This extravagant Victorian
structure cost $1 million and contained seven salt water plunges of varying temperatures, including
slides, springboards and diving towers. The grand opening was held on March 14, 1896.
The pools contained a total of 1.7 million gallons and there
were 20,000 bathing suits for rent (the facility could hold 10,000 people at a time). The tropical winter
garden was lush with palms and gingerbread detail, including massive galleries for those who only
wished to watch the swimmers. Sutro also built his own railroad to take the public from the City
out to the Baths.
There were also stage shows and extravaganzas held in the structure. Three restaurants could
accommodate 1,000 people at a sitting. A museum displayed oddities such as mummies, a miniature
motorized amusement park made entirely of toothpicks, dozens of stuff animals, and Tom
The baths were popular for a brief time, but were closed off and an ice skating rink was installed in the
southern-most section of the building in 1937. There was originally glass between the rink and the
baths, but by the 1950s, the panels had been painted over, though you could still see the vast,
ghostly pools through a scratched area. The revenue from skating was not enough to maintain the
structure, and it was slated for demolition when it burned in 1966. Sutro's home on the hills above
the baths had also burned. The entire area is now a park, and the ruins of the concrete pools can still
be seen today, adjacent to the newly renovated Cliff House.
The biggest challenge for skaters was the enormous staircase which had to be climbed after a workout
in order to exit the building--my memory is that it was the equivalent of about five flights, and after an intense
lesson, excruciating. In the 1960s, the ice surface was still excellent and a staff of pros
taught at the rink. George Whitney was the owner in later years.
The Sutro Baths in their heyday. The ice rink was built at the far end, center, of the picture where
the aqua slide is located.
The area where the ice rink was installed. The figure skating club had its headquarters on the
mezzanine level, against the glass, on the right side of the photo. A glass and plaster wall
separated the rink from the closed plunges.
The first of many staircases leading from the street level to the ice rink.
The original grand staircase. This remained after the baths were closed but it was seldom
used as it led from the mezzanine to the museum rather than to the street.
Setting up for an extravaganza on the stage. This is the area where the ice rink was built.
More stairs down from the street.
Firemen battle the blaze in 1966 which destroyed the entire Sutro Baths structure. A relative of
George Whitney's claims the fire was set to collect the insurance on the unprofitable property.