Cliff House, Sutro Baths and Ocean Beach

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First Cliff House, c. 1865

The first Cliff House, built in 1863, was originally a modest tavern. In 1881, the Cliff House was sold to Adolph Sutro, a self-made millionaire, philanthropist and later a mayor of San Francisco. Its restaurant became a fashionable destination for San Francisco socialites. Seven years later, Sutro built a railroad to bring the general public to this seaside attraction. On Christmas Day 1894, the Cliff House was destroyed by fire


View from the Cliff House towards the sand dunes that will become the site of the Golden Gate Park and the Sunset district


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The Story of the Cliff House, from the Wickipedia

The Cliff House has had five major incarnations since its beginnings in 1858. That year, Samuel Brannan, a prosperous ex-Mormon elder from Maine, bought for $1,500 the lumber salvaged from a ship that foundered on the basalt cliffs below. With this material he built the first Cliff House. The second Cliff house was built for Captain Junius G. Foster, but it was a long trek from the city and hosted mostly horseback riders, small game hunters or picnickers on day outings. With the opening of the Point Lobos toll road a year later, the Cliff House became successful with the Carriage trade for Sunday travel. The builders of the toll road constructed a two mile speedway beside it where well-to-do San Franciscans raced their horses along the way. On weekends, there was little room at the Cliff House hitching racks for tethering the horses for the thousands of rigs. Soon, omnibus railways and streetcar lines made it to near Lone Mountain where passengers transferred to stagecoach lines to the beach. The growth of Golden Gate Park encouraged beach travelers to search for meals and a look at the Sea Lions sunning themselves on Seal Rock, just off the cliffs.
In 1877, the toll road, now Geary Boulevard, was purchased by the City for around $25,000. In 1883, after a few years of downturn, the Cliff house was bought by Adolph Sutro who had solved the problems of ventilating and draining the mines of the Comstock Lode and become a multimillionaire. After a few years of quiet management by J.M. Wilkens, the Cliff House was severely damaged by an explosion of the schooner, Parallel, that went aground under the restaurant loaded with forty tons of dynamite. The blast was heard a hundred miles away and demolished the entire north wing of the tavern. Seven years later, on Christmas 1894 the patched and repaired old building burned down. Wilkens was unable to save the guest register, which included the signature of three Presidents and dozens of illustrious world-famous visitors.
In 1896, Adolph Sutro built a new Cliff House, a seven story Victorian Chateau, called by some "the Gingerbread Palace," below his estate on the bluffs of Sutro Heights. This was the same year work began on the famous Sutro Baths, which included six of the largest indoor swimming pools north of the Restaurant that included a museum, skating rink and other pleasure grounds. Great throngs of San Franciscans arrived on steam trains, bicycles, carts and horse wagons on Sunday excursions.
The Cliff House and Sutro's Baths survived the 1906 earthquake with little damage but burned to the ground on the evening of September 7, 1907. Rebuilding of the restaurant was completed within two years and, with additions and modern restorations, is the one seen today.
The building was acquired by the National Park Service in 1977. The site overlooks Seal Rock and the former site of the Sutro Baths. More than thirty ships have been pounded to pieces on the southern shore of the Golden Gate below the Cliff House.
First Cliff House and Seal Rocks, c. 1865

The first Cliff House, built in 1863, was a popular destination for prominent guests such as three U.S. presidents and San Francisco families such as the Hearsts, Stanford's and Crockers who would drive their carriages out to Ocean Beach for horse racing and recreation.


U. S. Grant Walk, Cliff House, September, 1879

The famous general and ex-President Ulysses S. Grant arrived in San Francisco on his last stretch of a tour of the world amidst great excitement. He paraded the City, including this walk south east from the Cliff House to the future site of the Golden Gate Park.



Cliff House #2 from Sutro Heights, c1880

photograph attributed to Taber

Cliff House from Sutro Park, circa 1900

The second Cliff House, built by Sutro in 1896, was a huge 8-story French chateau-style restaurant with galleries for art and natural science exhibits. Its fine dining and panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean made it a major attraction for the San Francisco elite. It survived the earthquake of 1906, only to be destroyed by fire in 1907.

Source: BIG



Cliff House #3 from Ocean Beach c1895

photograph unknown

Family Outing at Ocean Beach c1895

photographer unknown

Cliff House #2 from Sutro Heights, c1880

photograph attributed to Taber
Seal Rocks from the Cliff House c1890

photograph attributed to Taber

Ocean Beach and the Cliff House, c. 1900

The Cliff House and Ocean Beach were two of San Francisco's most popular attractions from the late 1850s to the early 1900s. Adolph Sutro's fantastic Cliff House, built in 1896, combined architectural elements of the French chateau and the German castle. Seal Rocks, visible just offshore, were individually named by Sutro.


Overlook and gun emplacement over Sutro Park


The Story of Sutro Baths, from the Wickipedia

In 1896, the Sutro Baths was opened to the public as the world's largest indoor swimming pool establishment. Built on the sleepy western side of San Francisco by wealthy entrepreneur and former mayor of San Francisco (1894-1896), Adolph Sutro, the breathtakingly vast glass, iron, wood, and reinforced concrete structure was mostly hidden in, and literally 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 6 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 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 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 a labyrinth of cement skeletal remains, blocked off stairs and passageways, and a dark 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. Anton LaVey, self-professed founder of the Church of Satan, claimed shortly after the fire that he had placed a curse on the baths only months prior, saying that it would go out "with a bang." Recently, however, a relative of the owners revealed on an online forum that the Sutro Baths were quickly pushing the owners into bankruptcy and the fire was deliberately started in order to collect on insurance.
Currently, visitors coming to the Sutro Baths from the above parking lot are presented with a sign post that tells essentially nothing of what the site had once been. Inside one of the cement pits, however, someone took the time to scribble out a paragraph apparently describing what Adolph Sutro had hoped to achieve in building the baths, but much of the writing has been covered by more recent graffiti.
Swimmers in the Sutro Baths, c 1895

The Baths, built by Adolph Sutro at the base of the rocks near the Cliff House, opened in 1898 and became one of the most sociable locations in the City. An enormous glass structure encased the seven pools, which were filled with steam-heated sea water piped in from the Pacific.

Inside the enormous glass structure that encased the Sutro Baths were seven pools, more than 500 private dressing rooms, viewing galleries, restaurants, and natural history exhibits. The pools were filled with steam-heated sea water piped in from the Pacific.


Sutro Baths, May Day 1897

Photograph by WC Billington

Length of baths, 499.5 feet.
Width of baths, 254.1 feet.

The Baths were protected from the sea by two enormous breakwaters aggregating 700 feet in length containing 750,000 cu. ft. of rock, every part having been constructed so well that it is now in as good condition as when built.


Sutro Baths Interior, Lithograph

The Third Cliff House, c. 1940

The third Cliff House was built in 1909 by Sutro's daughter Emma. It was neoclassic in design and carried on the tradition of sumptuous dining. The Depression and two world wars took their toll on the area however, and the Sutro family sold the Cliff House in 1952 to George Whitney. The Cliff House was remodeled several times before the National Park Service acquired it in 1977.



The Cliff House Project
Historical Information and pictures by Gary Stark
A Great Site to visit


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