The Sutro Baths were a large, privately owned swimming pool complex in San Francisco, California built in the late 19th century. The building housing the baths burned down in 1966 and was abandoned. The ruins may still be visited.
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 sleepy western side of San Francisco by wealthy entrepreneur and former mayor of San Francisco (1894-1896), Adolph Sutro. The vast glass, iron, wood, and reinforced concrete structure was mostly hidden, and 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 and operated by the United States National Park Service.
A visitor to the Baths not only had a choice of 7 different swimming pools—one fresh water and six salt water baths ranging in temperatures—but could also visit a museum displaying Sutro's large and varied personal collection of artifacts from his travels, a concert hall, seating for 8,000, and, at one time, an ice skating rink. During high tides, water would flow directly into the pools from the nearby ocean, recycling the 2 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.
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).
The baths struggled for years, mostly due to the very high operating and maintenance costs, and eventually closed. A fire destroyed the building in 1966 shortly after, while 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 Sutro Bath ruins are open to the public, but a warning sign advises strict caution, as visitors have been swept off by large waves and drowned at the site.
Currently, visitors coming to the Sutro Baths from the above parking lot are presented with a sign that describes the history of Sutro Baths starting from its construction and glamorous opening to the public in 1896. Another sign describes the later years of the site's history up until its demolition and complete destruction by fire in 1966. As one walks up out of the ruins toward the historic Cliff House, home to two full service restaurants: "Sutro’s at the Cliff House" and "The Bistro", as well as the "Terrace Room", a private Dining/reception room, one can find other pictures, paintings, and relics from the golden age of Sutro Baths’ functional operation.
Seal Rock is just offshore from the bath ruins.
Several films are stored by the Library of Congress as part of the American Memory collection and available for downloading and viewing online.
The 1958 film The Lineup was the only non-documentary film to use the fully-built baths as a shooting location. The scenes were shot after Sutro Baths' conversion to an ice skating rink.
The baths are featured in a scene in the 1971 film Harold and Maude in which Harold pretends to assault Maude while she acts the part of a war protester, in order to convince Harold's uncle (a high-ranking military man) that he is unfit for service. Maude "falls" down a hole in the ground and disappears after Harold grabs her protest sign and chases her with it, striking her and calling her various names such as "Commie!"
Statistics according to a 1912 article written by J.E. Van Hoosear of Pacific Gas and Electric.
1004 Point Lobos Avenue, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Sutro Baths, San Francisco, CA 94121, USAGet directions