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Local Knowledge: Sutro Baths

119 years ago, the Sutro Baths opened as the world’s largest indoor swimming complex. Today only its ruins remain. Perched atop the westernmost point of Lands End, Sutro Baths is an idyllic San Francisco time capsule that should not be taken for granted.

Back in 1895, Mayor Adolph Sutro spent $1 million of his personal money on the bath house as a gift to San Francisco. He built the Sutro Baths as a destination for tourists and locals alike. Thousands of people visited the bath house every day. The building stood four stories tall with seating for 5,000 patrons to watch swimming exhibitions. It even had a diving pool full of fresh water!

The baths thrived for decades, but popularity declined as time passed. The high operating and maintenance costs proved to be unsustainable. By the early 1960s, the Sutro Baths had closed. Today, the mere existence of the ruins is a bit of a fluke. If all had gone according to plan, apartment complexes would exist in place of the ruins. A developer had bought the land and began tearing it down for apartments (sound familiar?), but 49 years ago, a giant fire ended those plans altogether. The building was destroyed, and the apartments never came to fruition.

Today, the ruins are a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, along with the adjacent Cliff House. Concrete walls, charred stairs, and a pool of sea water are what remains of the original Sutro Baths.

The ironically titled ‘Tropic Beach’ entrance, built in 1934 with an art deco facade

Inside the Baths

Present-day ruins of the Sutro Baths on a sunny San Francisco afternoon 

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