Spirits at Sutro Baths

In the late nineteenth century, one million dollars was a lot of money. But it wasn’t too much for Adolph Sutro, the man behind one of the most extravagant leisure locations in historic San Francisco. The year was 1896, the man was a former mayor of the city, and the location was the west coast of the city. The creation was the Sutro Baths, a magnificent public bathhouse.

Many people have heard the term bathhouse and know only vaguely what this means, usually linking it in their minds with the sexual havens of more modern days. At its most basic, the Sutro Baths was a public swimming pool. But this slight description belies a much grander reality. This swimming pool area actually consisted of seven different swimming pools which were designed in Greek style within glass walls which overlooked the Pacific Ocean. Toys for swimmers included diving boards and slides as well as trapezes and swings. Ten thousand people could fit in to the baths at any given time.

For those people who wanted a break from the luxury of swimming in glass-encased magic, the Sutro Baths were also designed to be a place of leisure in other ways. There were three different restaurants located there so that visitors could ease the pangs of hunger worked up during swimming exercise. There was also an amphitheater featuring live stage performances of all kinds. Art gallery exhibits dotted the walls. The place was grandiose to a degree not even matched in the city to this day.

However, the venture proved to be less than fruitful. Perhaps this was because too much money went in to the building to make it reasonable to keep it in operation. Maybe it was because the place was not easy to reach, since San Francisco was not built up at the time and the area required railroad travel to be accessed. Or maybe the

Whatever the case, the location underwent a number of changes throughout the years. For a time, it was an ice skating rink. After that, the general area became home to Playland at the Beach, a magnificent amusement park which drew in crowds in droves until it closed in the early 1970’s. Today, the ruins of the baths are a tourist attraction, albeit one of the lesser-known ones in this city of so many things to see.

All of this history makes it a haven for lingering spirits. Those people interested in sighting a ghostly presence might find that the setting of the Sutro Baths is a perfect place for such an experience. The ruins of the baths are located to the north of the Cliff House Restaurant, right on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Just north of the ruins, there are a series of cave tunnels which lead out to a precarious perch on the water. Waves crash violently against the rocks at the end of these tunnels. One mis-step, and you could easily find yourself cascading into lost

But, if you brave the waves and the windy weather which accompany them, and head out to the end of the tunnel with a candle, you may find spirits welcoming your presence. It is said that if you light the candle and place it at the end of the tunnel, then retreat, you will see a figure come along, pick up the candle and toss it in to the water. Maybe it’s the saddened spirit of Adolph Sutro whose dream was realized and then crushed by reality. Maybe it is a figure from the past who enjoyed the baths enough to never leave. Or maybe it is more than one presence from different parts of the history of the area who find the blurring of time and the beauty of nature here too irresistible to leave behind.

Whether or not you believe in spirits … and whether or not you experience them at a visit to this location … the experience of the area is worth the trip out there. The ruins themselves only barely hint at the beauty that they once contained and yet are still amazing to see. And the ocean is gorgeous in this particular area of San Francisco, where whale sightings have happened and waves can crash freely.

NOTE: This information came from research I am doing to complete a book on Ghosts of San Francisco. As research develops, this information may change.

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