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18 August 2008

Secret San Francisco: The Sutro Baths

From Wikipedia:

"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 which was 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 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 gallons of water in about an hour.

The baths struggled for years, mostly due to the very high operating and maintenance costs, and eventually closed . . . All that remains of the site are some cement 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."


This is a favorite place of mine in San Francisco. It's sort of an unknown gem, a bit off the beaten track. When I was in grad school I used to ride the bus out to the shore and spend all day there, reading, studying, just enjoying being outside in such a beautiful setting (which, unlike Golden Gate Park, isn't overrun with homeless people).

If I ever wrote a Victorian-era novel, I'd certainly set it here in the Barabry Coast, and my characters would have to visit the baths!


8 Comments:

Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

We go there pretty regularly. There are several miles of walking paths with spectacular views of bay, bridge, and ocean, the paths overrun with orange poppies in the spring. Oh, and seals barking out there on the rocks.

I'm saddened to think of all the off-the-beaten-track places RWA conference-goers missed.

4:42 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

The Bay Area was home for five years and I never visited the Sutro Baths. Can I blame it on two toddlers and a house way too far out of town?

During the conference I did a lot of walking (I love architecture) and wish I had known more about what I was looking at. Keep the stories of San Francisco coming so I know what not to miss on my next visit. Thanks, Kalen.

6:18 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

It's one of those crazy maze cities, where it's easy to miss stuff. Like the Vulcan Steps, or Coit Tower, the buffalo in Golden Gate Park, or the flock of parrots that swirl though downtown.

3:33 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great topic, Kalen--sometimes I forget how much history is close to home. I walk near there with a friend fairly often--it's a gorgeous setting with a spectacular view of the ocean. A Victorian set in SF would be cool :-).

8:14 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Wow -- I've never heard of the Sutro baths, being an east-coaster. Yet another place to add to my itinerary when I finally get to visit the San Francisco area again. My DH attended Berkeley, so I keep asking him to show me his own stomping grounds. He's hardly the Haight-Ashbury type, though!!

8:19 AM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Fascinating, Kalen. I had never heard of these. I so enjoyed my first trip to San Francisco for conference that I can't wait to come back for a real visit. This will definitely go on my itinerary. A Victorian set in San Francisco sounds wonderful - so many possibilities!

10:28 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

For a heartbreakingly romantic take on the SF Bay Area from late-Victorian times to the early 20th-century, I must recommend The Confessions of Max Tivoli, by local novelist (and delightful person) Andrew Sean Greer.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

I think the place has sort of a mystical feeling (I went there when it was raining and foggy one day). I'd love to read contemporary "eyewitness" accounts about the Sutro Baths...any refs on that?

Have the baths ever been depicted on film?

I am fascinated by what it must have been like---that and the grand Cliff House that once stood on the site.

9:47 PM  

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