Today in History

Today in History: March 14

San Francisco by the Sea

Cliff House in San Francisco
Sutro Baths, San Francisco, California
Library of Congress. Prints & Photographs Division. LC-USZ62-70341.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

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 Sutro (external link). 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.

Cliff House

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.

film stills of the Golden Gate bridge
Panoramic view of the Golden Gate
Thomas A. Edison, Inc., 1902.
Before and After the Great Earthquake and Fire: Early Films of San Francisco, 1897-1916

film stills of the Golden Gate bridge
Panorama of Beach and Cliff House
American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, 1903.
Before and After the Great Earthquake and Fire: Early Films of San Francisco, 1897-1916

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.