DestinAsian - - DEPARTMENTS - —David Tse

San Fran­cisco, 1898.

Adolph Sutro, the Ger­man-born sil­ver baron, real es­tate devel­oper, and one­time mayor who helped shape the land­scape of late-19th-cen­tury San Fran­cisco, left his name on sev­eral sites across the city, from the forested slopes of Mount Sutro—now home to the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia’s lo­cal cam­pus—to Sutro Heights, his for­mer es­tate in the Lands End area. A noted phi­lan­thropist, he also gifted San Fran­cisco with what was once the world’s largest nata­to­rium, the Sutro Baths. Opened in 1896 right on the Pa­cific Ocean, the 1.2-hectare glass-en­closed fa­cil­ity was a mar­vel of its time, with six tide-fed pools fit­ted with to­bog­gan slides and rope swings and a prom­e­nade that alone could ac­com­mo­date more than 3,000 peo­ple. It was enough, one con­tem­po­rary writer noted, to “ri­val in mag­ni­tude, util­ity and beauty, the fa­mous ablu­vion re­sorts of Ti­tus, Cara­calla, Nero or Dio­cle­tian.” Com­plete with a mu­seum of cu­riosi­ties, the aquatic play­ground was de­signed for the en­ter­tain­ment and “health­ful re­cre­ation” of or­di­nary San Fran­cis­cans, who showed up in droves. Alas, the bath­house strug­gled to keep up with its op­er­at­ing ex­penses, and some­time af­ter the Great De­pres­sion it was con­verted into an ice-skat­ing rink. Then, in 1966, the fa­cil­ity burned down to its con­crete foun­da­tions. But it hasn’t been for­got­ten. Now pro­tected as part of the Golden Gate Na­tional Re­cre­ation Area, the sea­side ru­ins of Sutro Baths pro­vide hik­ers and sun­set seek­ers a cu­rios­ity of their own to pon­der.

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