San Francisco’s Victorian marvel: The huge swimming pools at Sutro Baths

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Sutro Baths bathing pools - San Francisco

The Baths: A great work of Adolph Sutro

The Bath building stands somewhat north of the new Cliff House, and its entrance from Point Lobos Avenue is a small classic temple.

From this, by broad stairways, flanked with shrubs and flowers, the Museum gallery is reached. Here are placed the archaeological and other collections of Mr Sutro.

Entrance to the Sutro Baths in San Francisco - 1895

Inside the Sutro Baths - 1895

Mummies and innumerable other curiosities from ancient Egypt, a goodly number of specimens of Aztec pottery and art that show a curious resemblance to the work from the land of the Nile, beautiful fans from various countries, Damascened plates, Chinese and Japanese swords, wooden ware used by the North American Indians, totems from Alaska, etc., etc..

In the Bath galleries proper will be found a superb collection of birds and animals, scenes from Japanese life, portfolios of photographs, and valuable state papers, oil paintings, and hundreds of other works of art and curios.

Sutro Baths museum exhibits - 1895

Inside the Sutro Baths - 1895

Inside the Sutro Baths - 1895

From the Museum gallery, the visitor can reach the Baths, either by stairways or by the elevator.

Inside the Sutro Baths - 1895

The swimming baths

San Francisco's Sutro Baths in color
Striking as is the first view, familiarity only makes it more striking. Its size seizes the imagination, yet it is not oppressive, owing to the lightness and airiness of the structure.

Sitting on a rock, watching the waves of the Pacific, dreaming of a way to utilize the gigantic power of the sea, part of this whilom dream of Sutro’s is here turned into reality.

Sutro Baths, San Francisco c1900

Sutro Baths bathing pools - San Francisco

Tier upon tier rise seats, while at their base, visible to everyone, are the swimming tanks. The sea water is supplied by an ingenious use of the ocean waves. A basin scooped out of solid rock receives the water that dashes over the top, thence it is conducted to a settling tank, from which by numerous small canals it makes its way into the various tanks.

Of these there are six in all; the largest one will contain the sea water in its normal state; the others will be heated to different temperatures to suit the varying requirements of visitors.

As stated above, the Baths are filled by the ocean itself. Should, however, there be tides so low as to necessitate pumping, preparations therefor have been made, and the water can be forced in at the rate of 6,000 gallons a minute.

The mere emptying of the tanks entails no difficulty; but the emptying of them in such a way as to prevent the return of the once-used water required ingenuity.

The refuse water in the main outlet, into which all the tanks ultimately empty, is piped hundreds of feet to the other side of the headlands, thence passes into the tidal current and away from the Baths.

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Sutro Baths, San Francisco, California 1898

A Sutro Baths swimming pool (c1908)Sutro Baths 1908

The Sutro Baths by the numbers

Sight alone will give a comprehensible idea of the Sutro Baths — some approximation, however, may be reached by the following figures:

Length of Baths: 499.5 feet
Width of Baths: 254.1 feet
Amount of Glass used: 100,000 superficial feet
Iron in Roof and Columns: 600 tons
Lumber: 3,500,000 feet
Concrete: 270,000 cubic feet
Seating Capacity: Amphitheatre, 3700; Promenade, 3700; Total, 7400
Holding Capacity: 25,000
Tanks: 6
Capacity of Tanks: 1,804,962 gallons
Fresh Water Plunge Tanks: 1
Toboggan Slides in Baths: 7
Spring Boards: 9
Trapezes: 3
High Dive: 1
Swinging Rings: 30
Dressing Rooms — private: 517
Club Rooms — 9 (capacity 1,110)
Total Capacity Dressing and Club Rooms: 1,627
Shower Baths in all Club Rooms: 37
Private Dressing Rooms: 29
Time required to fill tanks by waves: 1 hour
Time required to fill tanks by pumping: 5 hours

Sutro Baths 1897

Attached to the Baths is a laundry completely fitted up with washer, dryer, wringer and ironer; the limit of its capacity is 20,000 suits and 40,000 towels a day.

Furthermore, that the inner man may not be neglected, there is a restaurant inside the Baths. It consists of three floors 30×75 each, with a capacity at one time of 1,000 people.

The kitchen, 30×50 feet, contains four large ranges, broiler, stock kettle, warmer, etc., and can provide easily for the wants of 6,000 visitors. The Baths are lighted by electricity, two 800 candle-power arc lights and a number of 25 candle-power lights.

Viewing areas of the Sutro Baths swimming pools

Inside the Sutro Baths - 1895

Inside the Sutro Baths - 1895

View of San Francisco's Sutro Baths in 1895

All of the Sutro Baths buildings are protected on the west side by an enormous breakwater, 400 feet long, 20 feet deep, 25 feet wide at the top and 75 feet wide at the base, that contains 450,000 cubic feet of rock.

There is also another breakwater running east and west, 300 feet long, 25 feet wide at the top, 75 feet wide at the base, and. 20 feet deep, and contains 300,000 cubic feet of rock.

These two breakwaters furnish security against any possible contingency of a stormy sea. Indeed, there has been nothing omitted in the construction of the vast building or in its thousand details that could give security or add comfort to the visitor within its gates.

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