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Mar-16-2010

The Cliff House Sky Tram

Will wonders never cease? Once again outsidelands.org delights me with another fascinating glimpse into what used to be in the Richmond District. This time it’s the Cliff House Sky Tram which ran from May 1955 until 1961. The photo below was taken by Erma Zimmerman July 1956. More photos of the sky tram here and here.

Here’s more information on the Sky Tram from outsidelands.org:

The Sky Tram opened on May 3, 1955. Up to 25 passengers, paying a quarter each, had a slow ride from just below the Cliff House across the Sutro Baths basin to a Point Lobos promontory that had been outfitted with a two manmade waterfalls. This was not a roller-coaster, but a very slow sight-seeing glide on a couple of steel cables a few hundred feet above the ground. The whole trip took four minutes and you had to walk back.

Fog, wind, and perhaps general boredom shut down the Sky Tram in 1961. For many years the former Cliff House Sky Tram “station” served as a Golden Gate National Recreation Area visitor’s center. That building was torn down during the 2000 renovation of the Cliff House.

And check out the video below of the sky tram, shot by Ron Biagini in 1960 (courtesy of outsidelands.org). The video includes footage of the installed double waterfall and broken windows of the Sutro Baths building.

Outsidelands.org is a website belonging to the Western Neighborhoods Project, which is a nonprofit organization formed in 1999 to preserve and share the history and culture of the neighborhoods in western San Francisco. Become a member today to support their efforts – you get a quarterly newsletter, special guided history walks, and other great historical information.

Sarah B.

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8:56 am | Posted under History, Photos, Video | 9 comments
  1. David Gallagher said (03/16/10; 9:24 am):

    Thanks for the great post, Sarah

  2. Adam said (03/16/10; 1:31 pm):

    I soooooo wish they still had this up and running.

  3. Wolfgang Schubert said (03/20/10; 4:25 pm):

    We did the last shift of 1999 in the NPS Visitor Center! The waterfall in the picture, over which the Skytram ended, was one billed as the “largest saltwater waterfall in the world!”

  4. Marvin Gold said (03/22/10; 11:26 pm):

    This is a great photo and video. I went on the Sky Tram in the late 50′s when I was 6 or 7 years old. Many years later, I would mention this attraction and people would challenge me like I was making it up. It was is service for such a short time and was so well hidden that many people do not know this existed. Thanks for posting this

  5. John Martini said (03/23/10; 2:21 pm):

    Hmm. Got to quibble with a couple of details in the posting. First, the Sky Tram operated much later than 1961. I remember taking it in 1965. It was pretty depressing by then but it still operated.

    Second, you rode both ways, no walking involved. That actually was part of the ride’s downfall. The Sky Tram only charged for a round trip to nowhere, and made half the revenue it could have if only it carried paying passengers in both directions.

  6. Administrator said (03/23/10; 4:18 pm):

    Hi John –

    Thanks for the additinal information. I encourage you to contact outsidelands.org http://www.outsidelands.org/about.php#contact and help them update some of their history on the Sky Tram (which you can read here: http://www.outsidelands.org/skytram.php). It takes a village! :)

    Sarah B.

  7. Stephen said (11/10/10; 11:03 am):

    I remember living in the area in the late 50′s and since it was safe for a kid to wander about town I used to go there and play going up and the down the stairs and climbing over the rocks.
    Later there was an amusement park down the hill from the Cliff House where I would take my allowance and the money I got on the docks from the fishermen when I helped unload and clean out the boats.
    First time I had sushi then although it was just Japanese fisherman food then.
    Oddly I don’t lament the good old days but wonder what the hell happened that made them go away since I haven’t seen things get a lot better although it costs more.

  8. Morgan Paris said (05/23/11; 6:14 pm):

    According to the Website “The Cliff House Project” the Sky Tram was in service for exactly 11 years, from May 1955 to May 1966. I do not no where you got the idea that it closed sometime in 1961, but it is definitely wrong and should be corrected.

  9. Administrator said (05/23/11; 6:21 pm):

    @Morgan – As linked in the article, the 1961 date comes from another historical resource in the neighborhood, The Western Neighborhoods Project:

    http://www.outsidelands.org/skytram.php

    So we have some conflicting dates…

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