The Ruins of Sutro Baths

Apr 15, 2022 0 comments

Within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, just north of Ocean Beach, in San Francisco, you can still find the ruins of what was once the largest indoor swimming pool in the world—the magnificent Sutro Baths. The baths were built by wealthy entrepreneur and San Francisco mayor Adolph Sutro as an addition to his dramatically perched Cliff House, located on the edge of a cliff, overlooking Ocean Beach.

A postcard of Sutro Baths, circa 1896.

The structure was situated in a small beach inlet below the Cliff House. There, Sutro constructed a massive glass-enclosed building containing a fresh water pool and six salt-water pools, all maintained at various temperatures. The baths were 150 meters long, 77 meters wide and held 1.8 million US gallons of water. During high tides, water would flow directly into the pools from the nearby ocean, recycling the nearly two million US gallons of water in about an hour. During low tides, a powerful turbine water pump could fill the tanks in about five hours.

The Baths had more than 500 private dressing rooms with facilities for 20,000 bathers. There were slides, trapezes, springboards, and a high dive. The complex also had a museum with an extensive collection of odd specimens that Sutro had collected during his travels including Egyptian mummies, stuffed polar bears and apes, totem poles from Alaska and paintings, tapestries and artifacts from Mexico, China, Asia, and the Middle East.

The Sutro Baths were immensely popular but they were never profitable, and as the years went by, they became increasing expensive to maintain. Overtime, the popularity of the Baths also decreased, especially after the Great Depression. In an attempt to make the facility profitable, the owners converted the baths into an ice-skating rink but Sutro Baths never regained its popularity and the ice-skating revenue was not enough to maintain the enormous building. Eventually, the baths were sold off to a property developer who began demolishing the tanks so that some high-rise apartments could be erected. In 1966, a mysterious fire ravaged the remaining structure, and the city also did not pursue the planned high-rise. All that remains of the site today are a series of low-rise concrete walls, blocked-off stairs and passageways, and a tunnel with a deep crevice in the middle.

Sutro Baths today. Photo: Gregory Varnum/Wikimedia

Sutro Baths today. Photo: Sasha/Wikimedia


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