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Throwback Thursday: 5 Things You Might Not Know About Sutro Tower

Most San Franciscans have looked into the sky on a foggy morning or a perfectly cloudless afternoon to admire the impressive spectacle that is Sutro Tower. Standing nearly 1000 feet in the air atop a hill between Mount Sutro and Twin Peaks, it is the Bay Area’s most conspicuous icon (after the Golden Gate, of course). But, as recognizable and alluring as it is, many of us don’t know all that much about the iconic tower’s history, let alone purpose.

First of all, let’s get the basics straight. Sutro Tower is an antenna tower that transmits the signals of “eleven television stations, four FM radio stations, and twenty wireless and mobile communications users” ( sutrotower.com) to people all over the Bay Area. Because of San Francisco’s uneven topography, the tower’s location near Clarendon Heights is the most ideal spot in the city for maximum range.

Sutro Tower was built after a series of complaints about poor reception prompted television stations to take action during the 1960s. In order to accommodate the majority of the population, they decided upon an ideal design and location for the tower. Between 1971-1973, the $4 million project took place, resulting in the 977-foot steel tower and better reception for all! ( sutrotower.com)

Now that we’re clear on the basics, here are five surprising facts you probably didn’t know about Sutro Tower. Behold:

1. Sutro is named after Adolph Sutro, a Prussian engineer and a real estate investor of the Gold Rush era. He was also the mayor of San Francisco from 1894 to 1896. Before the tower was built, a large mansion inhabited the site where Adolph Gilbert Sutro (grandson of the late mayor) and his mother lived. They sold the house and surrounding land to ABC for $125,000 for their KGO-TV television station. ( sutrotower.com)

2. The three legs of the tower are embedded in 15 MILLION POUNDS of concrete. This ensures the tower can “withstand an earthquake at least as severe as the 1907 event. In fact, it will withstand what engineers believe is the maximum energy able to be caused by any event in the San Andreas Fault.” ( sutrotower.com)

3. Before the tower was built, local residents complained that it would be an eyesore. In fact, when it was first constructed its legs were lined with long tubes of light that were finally taken down due to public outcry. Today, it is more widely appreciated and is even seen by many as iconic as the Golden Gate Bridge.

4. A small cage elevator takes workers up and down the tower for maintenance. In fact, “one-third of the tower undergoes a detailed inspection each year by an independent testing laboratory approved by the City, including plates, bolts, welds, trusses, concrete and all other components.” ( sutrotower.com)

5. While Sutro Tower is not open to the public, it can be viewed close-up at the Summit Reservoir. It features a paved path and free parking along Palo Alto Avenue and Marview Way. Or hike Mount Sutro on a foggy day for an amazing experience in the clouds!

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