Just north of the Cliff House are the historically protected ruins of the once grand Sutro Baths built by Adolph Sutro. Sutro had been developing the project for years, attempting four separate times to insulate the site from waves using sea walls, the first three of which collapsed into the Pacific Ocean. On March 14, 1896 the Sutro Baths finally opened to a dazzled public at a cost of $250,000. Spread over three acres, the artistic detail and engineering ingenuity were impressive.
A classic Greek portal opened to a massive glass enclosure containing one fresh water tank and six salt-water tanks, all at various temperatures. Together the pools held 1,685,000 gallons of seawater and could be filled or emptied in one hour by the high or low tides. There were 20,000 bathing suits and 40,000 towels for rent as well as slides, trapezes, springboards, and a high dive for up to 1,600 bathers.
The building contained three restaurants that could accommodate 1,000 people at a seating and was stocked with treasures that Sutro had collected during his travels. A 3,700-seat amphitheater provided entertainment and up to 25,000 people could visit each day for a mere 10 cents (25 cents for swimming). Sutro’s dream was realized as the San Francisco populace streamed to the baths riding the excursion railroad he built to reach them. The railroad grade still exists as a walking trail along the Land’s End cliffs.
By 1937 Sutro’s grandson realized the baths were no longer commercially successful so he converted the large tank into an ice skating rink. Sutro Baths never regained its popularity and the ice-skating revenue was not enough to maintain the enormous building. George Whitney purchased the Sutro Baths in 1952 from Sutro's grandson and in 1966, the site was sold to land developers who began demolition so they could build high-rise apartments. A fire quickly finished the demolition work and thus ended the 80-year history of Sutro Baths.
Today you can explore the remains of Sutro Baths and imagine the elegance of life here at the turn of the century. The baths became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 1980 and are still popular for the scenic and recreational values recognized by Adolph Sutro over 100 years ago.