New (old) photos of Sutro Baths

That’s a cross section of a Humboldt County redwood tree on the right.

Our friends over at Inside Outside Lands posted about some new Sutro Baths photos that were recently added to the Cliff House Project website. I’ve lived in the city my whole life but not long enough to have experienced the baths. So I find them endlessly fascinating.

This latest group of photos are from a booklet shot by reknowned local photographer Isaiah Taber and include some rare views of the tanks, stands, museum and promenades in the Baths. You really get a feel for how large the place was.

The photos and booklet aren’t dated but according to the Wikipedia page on Taber, “the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his San Francisco studio, gallery, and negative collection, ending his photographic career.” So these were probably taken at the turn of the century (Sutro Baths opened in 1896).

UPDATE: Commenter John Martini confirms that they were taken sometime during 1894-1895 (“One major clue is the “Greek Temple” entrance shown in the first photo. By 1896 this entry had been altered…”). Thanks John!

I’ve included a couple more below (is that Adolph Sutro himself in the last one?), but be sure to see all the photos from this booklet. Really, the entire Cliff House Project site is fantastic, so pour yourself a cup of coffee and start clicking through local history!

Sarah B.


  1. Does anyone else feel like something should be built down there? I mean, I like nature, and I like ruins, but I also like buildings and keeping it abandoned seems like a bit of a waste.

  2. @Al – It’s a tough one. There are some who think all the Sutro Baths ruins should be removed, returning the area to its natural state. On the other hand, it is a tourist destination and as a San Franciscan, I think it’s an interesting piece of our history.

    What’d I love to see in the new Lands End Visitors Center that’s being built is a more visual representation of how the ruins translate into the original structure. Like a book I had in Pompeii where I could overlay the original buildings onto images of the ruins, bringing them to life. I think it would really help people better envision what was there and appreciate the ruins that remain.

    Sarah B.

  3. @ Al. I agree. How long will those ruins sit there? 100 years? 200? The are interesting to see a few times but not forever. While we are dreaming, my vote is for a heated outdoor (infinity) pool built by craftsmen based upon a design with a presidio feel (not a generic urban concrete pool). I guess the ‘carbon footprint’ to heat it would not be PC…but just imagine soaking in the pool watching the fog roll in as the waves crash in. Or, on a clear afternoon, watching the ships pass by in front of the Marin headlands as the sun sets over the ocean! If only that Land’s End had a natural hot spring source like the pools of Ourey, Colorado…my personal favorite.

    Nice historical pictures btw..

  4. It would be great to have a display with better visual representation of the relationship between the original structure and the ruins. It would be wonderful to have a public indoor/outdoor water park including pools with ocean views at or adjacent to that site. A demonstration of sustainable energy sources could be used including solar, wind and tides.

  5. Love the giant parasol umbrella canopy’s in the last photo how gorgeous

  6. Just read the posting about the ‘new’ historic photos of Sutro Baths taken by I.W. Taber and the speculation on when they were taken.

    I’ve written quite a bit about the Baths and am pretty familiar with how it developed, and based on the state of construction these photos date to 1894-1895.

    One major clue is the “Greek Temple” entrance shown in the first photo. By 1896 this entry had been altered by the addition of a pedestrian corridor on its east (right hand) side that connected to the new depot for the Sutro Electric Railway streetcars near the site of present day Louis’.

  7. ( Posted 11/19/2010) Opened 114 years, 8 months, 5 days Ago.

    I wondered what it be like to rebuild the baths with the original plans and using modern day technology should make it easy and accurate. Then I thought to myself…100 years later after it’s the rebuilt people will be walking on the exact ruins of original ruins again he he. Just a random thought.

  8. Please can you forward an address for us to purchase old photos of the sutro baths complex please. We recently took a holiday and in the villa there was a magnificant photo of the baths and its bathers. I contacted the owners who said they honeymooned in San Francisco and thats were it comes from. Greatly appreciated

    Yorkshire Great Britain

  9. Hi,

    I volunteer at the Vacaville Historical Council, in Vacaville, California and I am looking for pictures of Sutro Baths (rather than posters with caricatures of people). My father, was born and raised in San Francisco and he used to swim there as a young man. Born in 1932, passed away in 2009. Sutro baths was a place that he and friends enjoyed swimming in and I am looking for a decent picture (old time in the late 30’s or early 40’s) so that I can frame it as a place my father enjoyed. I plan on doing the same thing if I can find a decent picture of Playland at the Beach during the same time period. I wonder if you can help me by showing me what pictures you have and I will pay you for a print or two of what you have. thank you. doug rodgers

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