On March 14, 1896, San Francisco celebrated the official opening of the Sutro Baths, an extravagant public bathhouse envisioned and developed by the one-time mayor of San Francisco, Adolph SutroExternal. An early immigrant to the city, the Prussian-born Sutro was a mining engineer and real estate investor who, it was said, once owned an estimated one-twelfth of the acreage of San Francisco. Sutro made his initial fortune by creating what was known as the Sutro Tunnel, a structure built to facilitate the silver mining of the Comstock Lode in Nevada.
Inside the enormous glass structure that encased the Sutro Baths were seven pools, viewing galleries, restaurants, and exhibition spaces. The pools were filled with heated sea-water piped in from the Pacific.
Sutro built the baths just north of Cliff House, another popular San Francisco attraction, which he also owned.
To ensure that transportation to the baths and Cliff House remained affordable for the general public, Sutro built his own trolley line from downtown San Francisco. Access was also available via the Cliff House Railroad. The film Panoramic View of the Golden Gate features the scenic portion of the Cliff House Railroad route along the bluffs and cliffs of Lands End (at the northwest corner of San Francisco) overlooking the Golden Gate and the Marin headlands.
The first Cliff House was built in 1863. It was destroyed by fire on Christmas Day 1894. The film Panorama of Beach and Cliff House shows the second Cliff House, completed by Sutro in 1896. It was destroyed by yet another fire in 1907, only to be replaced by a third structure, built by Sutro’s daughter Emma, in 1909. This structure is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The structure that housed the Sutro Baths was destroyed by fire in 1966 and only the ruins are visible today.
- For more films of turn-of-the-century San Francisco, browse the subject index of the collection Before and After the Great Earthquake and Fire: San Francisco, 1897 to 1916, which includes twenty-six early films of the city and its environs before and after the 1906 disaster.
- Additional films depicting San Francisco and the Sutro Baths may be found in the collection Inventing Entertainment: The Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies; try doing a keyword search of the collection using San Francisco or Sutro as search terms.
- Search the Library of Congress Image Collections to find images of the Sutro Baths, the Sutro Tunnel, Cliff House, and other historic scenes of San Francisco.
- Additional materials on the history of the Sutro Baths, Cliff House and San Francisco may be found in the following collections:
- Learn more about Adolph Sutro through information found on the National Park Service site for Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the Online Archive of CaliforniaExternal.