1896 Sutro Baths: treatment plant or swimming pool?



The Sutro Baths was a large, privately owned public saltwater swimming pool complex in western San Francisco, California. Built in 1896, it burned down in June 1966 and is now in ruins. On March 14, 1896, the Sutro Baths were opened to the public as the world's largest indoor swimming pool establishment. The baths were built on the western side of San Francisco by wealthy entrepreneur and former mayor of San Francisco (1894–1896) Adolph Sutro.

The Ruins

The following statistics are from a 1912 article written by J. E. Van Hoosear of Pacific Gas and Electric. Materials used in the structure included 100,000 sq ft (9,300 m2) of glass, 600 tons of iron, 3,500,000 board feet (8,300 m3) of lumber, and 10,000 cu yd (7,600 m3) of concrete.

During high tides, water would flow directly into the pools from the nearby ocean, recycling the two million US gallons (7,600 m³) of water in about an hour. During low tides, a powerful turbine water pump, built inside a cave at sea level, could be switched on from a control room and could fill the tanks at a rate of 6,000 US gallons a minute (380 L/s), recycling all the water in five hours.

1940: Sutro Baths

Facilities included:
  • Six saltwater pools and one freshwater pool. The baths were 499.5 feet (152.2 m) long and 254.1 feet (77.4 m) wide for a capacity of 1,805,000 US gallons (6,830 m3). They were equipped with 7 slides, 30 swinging rings, and 1 springboard.
  • A museum displaying an extensive collection of stuffed and mounted animals, historic artifacts, and artwork, much of which Sutro acquired from the Woodward's Gardens estate sale in 1894.
  • A 2700-seat amphitheater, and club rooms with capacity for 1100.
  • 517 private dressing rooms.
  • An ice skating rink.
The baths were once served by two rail lines. The Ferries and Cliff House Railroad ran along the cliffs of Lands End overlooking the Golden Gate. The route ran from the baths to a terminal at California Street and Central Avenue, now Presidio Avenue. The second line was the Sutro Railroad, which ran electric trolleys to Golden Gate Park and downtown San Francisco.

1894 or 1896?
While officially the Baths were built in 1896, we have this photograph dated with June 8, 1894, where the "baths" appear to be as ready as it gets.

Larger Image: 8,968 × 5,416 pixels

(strange people, by the way)

Makeshift Slides
Were the swimmers expected to climb those railings? This slide does not appear to be a part of the original design. What else was not a part of the original design in this complex?


Swimming Pool?

Notice the way they have to climb out.

Waste Water Treatment Plant?


KD: This 1896 Sutro Baths, which conveniently burned down in 1966, reminded me of a renovated, and repurposed waste water treatment plant. You can feel free to ridicule me on this one, but those people in the image above looks tremendously uncomfortable trying to climb up onto the platform. How do you make a water pool out of a treatment plant? Just add some water slides and start selling tickets.

Adolph Sutro & Ladies of National Medical Convention, June 8, 1894

From the above 1894 photograph

Anyways, there are plenty of additional pictures on the internet. Please feel free to share your opinions and interesting photographs you find.

Some links:


New member
This is an interesting topic. I've come to believe there were lots of salt water "pools"/reservoirs in the not so long ago past. You can make a "battery" with copper, magnesium and salt water where just a drop of salt water powers a small motor for up to 10 minutes. Imaging the power you can produce with large reservoirs.

If you notice all the old Grecian style buildings that we are already question that are built in a "horseshoe" configuration seem to have a large reflection pool in the middle with a copper, domed roof building at 12 o'clock. Also the old maps that show giant lakes that conveniently have a stream/river/canal back to the ocean are the lakes in question for creating mud floods. There also seems to be a consensus that free energy was widely available in the past.


Well-known member
My 1st thought was treatment plant 100% from that picture.


Then battery cells are created much the same...


Domed copper tops on the building, battery material right there...

Those blue prints are a wow moment too.

Spidy senses well tingling.

Those foundations....


Close view at northern end of ruins (2017)
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Well-known member
Are you kidding me?
There are photos here of the bleachers completely filled with spectators.
What is going on? A world championship water slide competition?

All just meters from the coastline. The Pacific must have still had sea monsters in 1894.

Sutro Baths

maybe somebody can find more of this on the blueprints?
Yes, this print has old wall.

It gets even more outrageous here.
Someone needs to think of the children and destroy these free energy wave motors.
Wave Motor


After they tried to blow them up with a boat carrying seventy tons of dynamite.
Parallel Wreck
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Active member
I am impressed by the speed of construction back then. Built in 1896, opened in the middle of March 1896. They had no construction machines and trucks at that time, only horse teams and craftsmen, who are supposed to have completed all this with human power. In general this time is full of strange buildings, which were built in record time out of nothing.
This would be worth an extra thread, maybe I should start.

BTW.: The Sutro Baths,
after this page the sutro bath was built in 1894 (see big image above)
but it seems this place has some secrets, like tunnels and so on.
Sutro Bath history

Opening Sutro Baths: Source

Opening Saturday 21. October 1894

The Fire 1966

A Forgotten Landmark A history of the Sutro Baths located in San Francisco, CA

Other resources:
1895 Sutro baths, Cliff house (book)
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Well-known member
I never heard of these before. It looks amazing! Definitely not a bath or swimming pool. Who would make bathing pools like that, at a level well below the walkways so that you have to clamber over metal railings and posts to get into, or out of, the water? Swimming pools are made to be accessed easily, not provide an obstacle course for swimmers before they even get into the water. And bleachers for spectators?? I guess recreational swimming a spectator sport back then. Come watch grandpa do leisurely laps 'round the saltwater tank while the kids toss a beach ball back and forth. Jeezaloo, the things we are expected to believe. Nothing suspicious about the whole thing burning down. All that water, all that stone and metal...what, exactly, burned, the bleachers?


Well-known member
Those big beams forming the shape of the roof are either two timbers bolted together or two bolted together onto an iron or steel core as you can see in the picture above with the stuffed cats in it.
There is a surprising amount of wood in the structure and fire is used today to get rid of buildings that just 'won't fall down' of their own accord.

The original entrance.

All this is wood

Checkout the booklet with what looks to me like the Sutro family wandering around Sutro Baths Booklet

And this one is spectacular.

A site all about the ruins Sutro Baths @ sutrobaths.com

Quite a chap. Adolph Sutro: Self-Trained Engineer, Book Collector, Land Investor, Merchant & Mayor – JMAW – Jewish Museum of the American West

Another European immigrant Adolph Sutro 1830-1898
To me his appearance in the United States like Edwuard Muybridges ties in with the cleansing of the heathens on the 1842 church map in this thread 1878 Panorama of San Francisco from California Street Hill
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Hello all, this is my first post.

Just south of Sutro Baths, was the great Fleishhacker Pool.

From Wiki:
It was built by philanthropist and civic leader Herbert Fleishhacker in 1924, and opened April 22, 1925. The pool measured 1,000 by 150 ft (300 by 50 m), held 6,500,000 US gal (25,000,000 L) of seawater, and accommodated 10,000 bathers. The pool was so large the lifeguards required rowboats for patrol, and was used by the military for drills and exercises. The pool water was pumped from the Pacific Ocean, filtered and heated. The pool's heater could warm 2,800 US gal (11,000 L) of seawater from 60 degrees to 75 degrees Fahrenheit each minute. This resulted in a constant pool water temperature of 72 degrees for AAU swim meets.
The water was provided by a series of pumps and piping at high tide, directly from the Pacific Ocean 650 ft (200 m) away. There was also a diving pool measuring 50 ft (15 m) square and 14 ft (4.3 m) deep and a two tiered diving tower.


I can't imagine the good citizens of San Francisco were clamoring for such an outdoor saltwater swimming pool. Plus, they had the indoor Sutro Baths just to the north.

A first-hand perspective Streetwise: Six Million Gallons

It's now part of the SF Zoo parking lot. The bathhouse burned down (!) in 2012.

An interesting bit from the link :

Maybe it was easier to think big in the 1920s. The world's largest pool and its bathhouse were conceived and created in just three years. The recently constructed Charlie Sava public pool on 19th Avenue and Wawona Street took over a decade.
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Well-known member
i don't think the sutro baths seem that out of place! that steel outer building looks like a prefab that would have been ordered onto site.. the only odd part is there's no photos of constructing the retaining wall for the pool!
it's not totally unheard of to trap the high tide for swimming in though:
http://www.oldukphotos.com/graphics/England Photos/Somerset, Weston Super Mare, Marine Lake.jpg
that's my hometown! wouldn't swim in there though :p
[interesting note- those concrete pillars behind around the lake got completely destroyed by stormy weather]


Active member
The [Fleishhacker] pool's heater could warm 2,800 US gal (11,000 L) of seawater from 60 degrees to 75 degrees Fahrenheit each minute. This resulted in a constant pool water temperature of 72 degrees for AAU swim meets.
I tried to calculate the energy consumption per minute with a formula found elsewhere ( E = 4,18kJ/(kg * K) * 6,5 K * 11000kg = 298870 KJ. ( with "4,18" being a constant, and "6,5" the temperature delta in Kelvin/Celsius). Breaking down the 1 minute into seconds I get 4981 kj/s = 4981 kW/h=~ 5 Megawatt

First, could anyone with better skills in physics than me please confirm or correct this calculation? :) So, where did they get this amount of energy from? Not sure if it could be delivered per cable at that time, so I would rather expect a on-site engine (?)

In any case, shouldn't there be either appropriate power cables, or chimneys? :unsure:


Well-known member
At least sutro baths was constantly changing its used water for fresh sea water unlike modern swimming baths which 'filter it' so in that sense much cleaner than modern baths. Would be interesting to find out if they desalinated sea water to fill the freshwater pool with.

Swimming baths and pools are water treatment plants. If they were anything less they would be primary sources of infections for every user. They don't usually look like one but the reality is that is exactly what they are.