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Sutro Baths: A San Francisco Must See

The Sutro Baths was a large, privately owned public saltwater swimming pool complex in the Lands End area of the Outer Richmond District in western San Francisco, California.

Built in 1896, it is located near the Cliff House, Seal Rocks, and Sutro Heights Park. The facility burned down in June 1966 and is now in ruins. The site is within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the Sutro Historic District. (Source: Wiki)




During my visit it was amazing to read the history that was plastered throughout the recreation area and visitor center. To know I am walking along stones built so long ago was such a satisfactory and fulfilling feeling that made me think of how wonderful it would be to see this amazing establishment rebuilt. Also in reading the history of Sutro Baths you began to realize how unreal it is that Sutro’s properties were constantly burning down as if God wasn’t going to allow him to effortlessly benefit from the land he took from the indigenous people known as The Yelamu Ohlone tribe.


The Yelamu lived at Lands End before Spanish settlement began in 1776. After the Gold Rush, entrepreneurs designed the new Cliff House as a fashionable resort for the wealthy. A private company constructed a new road called Point Lobos Avenue. By the 1860s, a horse-drawn stagecoach made the trip every Sunday from crowded downtown San Francisco out to Lands End. During the 1880s, millionaire Adolph Sutro constructed a passenger steam train from downtown to Lands End for the affordable fare of 5¢. In 1891, an old miner called Charles Jackson announced that he had discovered a vein of bituminous coal under the cliffs at Baker Beach, on Sutro’s land; Sutro had a tunnel dug 200 feet under the railroad track and confirmed the find, but the mine was never exploited and is hard to access today as a result of landslides. Its said Sutro wanted to make the place available to all people rich or poor but not to blacks or other minority races due to the “white only” signs that were plastered throughout the facility.

An Early Civil Rights Case

In 1897, John Harris, an African American, challenged Sutro Bath’s “whites only” policy in court and won his case. Harris vs. Sutro placed San Francisco at the heart for the fight against separate but equal during the Jim Crow Era and predates the National Civil Rights Act by 67 years. Not only was I visiting history rich remains, but remains that played a significant role in highlighting the importance of inclusivity for all minorities.


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