Post image for Sutro Baths—Urban ruins at the edge of the earth

Sutro Baths—Urban ruins at the edge of the earth

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Ruins of Sutro Baths, photo © Caitlin Childs via Creative Commons

Sutro Baths are a haunting echo of the past: A giant concrete pond thick with moss, a century-old honeycombed building, rusted pipes and rib-like jutting iron girders, a stairway leading off a cliff, a tunnel to nowhere—and all of it crumbling into oblivion.

Opened in 1896 as a public bathhouse, the 500-foot-long complex once housed 7 baths, all at different temperatures, and could accommodate 25,000 people a day. Guests enjoyed 7 toboggan slides into the baths, springboards, a high dive, trapezes, trampolines, 517 private dressing rooms, a concert hall, an amphitheater and a promenade.

Eccentric SF mayor Adoph Sutro conceived and developed the extravagant building, but his heirs were unable to maintain it, and even conversion to “Playland at the Beach” and later to an ice skating rink could not save it from the wrecker’s ball.

For a few more years, visitors can wander what’s left of this mysterious labyrinthine structure, subject to crashing waves and shifting sands, and imagine a grand edifice of yesteryear. Bring your camera.

Did you know: The Sutro Baths website includes beautiful photos of the ruins, as well as a clip from an 1897 film (© Thomas A. Edison) showing bathers tobogganing down a 50-foot slide into a pool.

Did you know: Adolph Sutro’s biographer, Eugenia Kellogg Holmes, said the baths “… rival in magnitude, utility and beauty, the famous abluvion resorts of Titus, Caracalla, Nero or Diocletian…”

Sutro Baths, San FranciscoReturn to the glory days of Sutro Baths with San Francisciana Photographs of Sutro Baths, a spiral-bound book of old photos.

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