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San Francisco - Sutro Baths, Cliff House and Seal Rocks | by wallyg
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San Francisco - Sutro Baths, Cliff House and Seal Rocks

The Sutro Baths were a large, privately owned swimming pool complex built on the western side of San Francisco by wealthy entrepreneur and former San Francisco mayor Adolph Sutro in the late 19th century. Following a fire in 1966, all that remains of the site are concrete walls, blocked off stairs and passageways, and a tunnel with a deep crevice in the middle. The ruins are still open to the public and are now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and operated by the National Park Service.


When Sutro Baths originally opened to the public on March 14, 1896, they were the world's largest indoor swimming pool establishment. The vast structure filled a small beach inlet below the Cliff House, also owned by Adolph Sutro at the time. The baths offered seven different swimming pools--one fresh water and six salt water, ranging in termperatures. During high tides, water would flow directly into the pools from the nearby ocean, recycling the two million US gallons of water in about an hour. During low tides, a powerful turbine water pump, built inside a cave at sea level, could fill the tanks at a rate of 6,000 US gallons a minute, recycling all the water in five hours. The facility also housed a museum displaying Sutro's large and varied personal collection of artifacts from his travels, an 8,000-seat concert hall, and an ice skating rink. The baths struggled for years, resulting from high operating and maintenance costs. Shortly after closing, a fire destroyed the building while it was in the process of being demolished.


The Cliff House is a restaurant perched on the headlands on the cliffs just north of Ocean Beach at 1090 Point Lobos Avenue. Its current and fifth incarnation features two restaurants, the casual dining Bistro Restaurant and the more formal Sutro's; and its Terrace Room serves a Sunday Brunch buffet. Now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, operated by the National Park Service, the Cliff House features a gift shop and the Camera Obscura on a deck overlooking the ocean. During its most recent renovation, the Musée Mécanique was moved to Fisherman's Wharf.


The first Cliff House was built in 1858 by Samuel Brannan, a prosperous ex-Mormon elder from Maine, using lumber salvaged from a shop that foundered on the basalt cliffs below. The second Cliff house, built for Captain Junius G. Foster, catered mostly to horseback riders and day trippers until the opening of the Point Lobos toll road and eventually Golden Gate Park opened it up. In 1883, the Cliff House was bought by Adolph Sutro, who rebuilt it after it was first damaged by an explosion from an abandoned schooner loaded with dynamite in 1883 and then completely destroyed by a chimney fire in 1894. The replacement, a seven-story Victorian Cheateau opened the same year as his Sutro Baths, pulling in throngs of visitors.


The Cliff House survived the 1906 earthquake with little damage but burned to the ground in 1907. Dr. Emma Merritt, Sutro's daughter, commissioned a new neo-classical style building which was completed by 1909. In 1937, George and Leo Whitney purchased the Cliff House, complementing their Playland-at-the-Beach, and extensively remodeled it into an American roadhouse. When the NPS acquired the building in 1977, many of Whitney's additions were removed and it was restored to its 1909 appearance. In 2003, an extensive further renovation added a new two-story wing overlooking the Sutro Bath ruins.


Seal Rocks is a rock formation island found offshore at the north end of the Ocean Beach. Its name is derived from the population of Steller's sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) and California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) who used to haul out on the rock. This formation, once part of a coastline that extended between eight and twenty miles westward of its current position, but filled in following the last ice age, were formed over the years by waves, wind, and the movement of sand.

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Taken on February 25, 2012