Thursday, December 2, 2010
In 1896 San Francisco opened the world’s largest glass and steel framed indoor swimming pool. Tucked away in a low beach inlet underneath the cliffs, Sutro Baths boasted 6 huge saltwater pools and 1 freshwater pool. The 2 million gallons of water were recirculated by the tides daily. At high tide the waves would come in and fill the saltwater pools in one hour; at low tide the water could be pumped in five. At 140 feet longer than a football field the baths were almost 500 feet long and 254 feet wide.
I remember driving by the Sutro Baths as a kid and listening to my parents talk about swimming in the heated pools when they were kids. I used to imagine what it was like in its heyday with ladies and gents decked out in neck to ankle swim wear, bobbing around in waves of the circulating pools and of kids screaming and sliding down the seven 50 foot Toboggan slides. They managed to survive the 1906 earthquake and fire, and generation after generation of San Franciscans spent their weekends picnicking on the grounds and splashing in the heated tides.
When I first saw them they had long been part of Play Land at the Beach, a huge arcade that was well into its decline into seediness. The beautiful beach had become one of the places nobody with any sense would dare venture into. Mysteriously, Play Land and Sutro Baths burned to the ground in 1966. I remember watching the fire on TV and wondering what the big deal was. I really didn’t understand the history that was disappearing.
The ruins of the Baths have survived, jutting up from the sand like giant graffiti covered Pompeii bunkers. It is a great place to view the ocean, bird watch and climb around the cliffs. The land is now part of the National Park Service, which also takes care of Fort Point, the Civil War era military fort at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, a quarter of a mile away.
Check out the two films http://sutrobaths.com/explorebaths.shtml
taken by Thomas Edison in August 1897. I guarantee you’ll wish you were there.