Today is the 120th anniversary of the opening of Sutro Baths, a remarkable wood-and-glass Victorian confection at the western edge of the continent (and the city), aptly named Land’s End. Adolph Sutro, mining magnate and mayor, built the baths as an attraction for the growing city, residents and visitors alike. Seven pools filled with seawater heated to different temperatures, as shown in this Golden Gate National Recreation Area photo.
But the site was a long way from where people lived back then. To get there, Sutro built his own streetcar line. This was a common practice of land developers across America in that era. The flip side was also true: private streetcar companies often built amusement parks and other attractions at the ends of their lines to attract weekend riders.
The photo above shows a Sutro Railroad electric streetcar (of the same design as preserved No. 578, though larger) with a piece of Sutro Baths just behind it and the huge, very ornate Cliff House, which burned to the rocks in 1907, visible in the background.
The Sutro Railroad Company didn’t last long, soon becoming part of San Francisco’s near-monopoly private transit company, known in different incarnations as Market Street Railway Company and United Railroads. They operated Sutro’s streetcar line as their 2-Clement line. Shortly after the publicly-owned Municipal Railway opened its B-Geary line in 1912, it was extended to Ocean Beach, but not by outer Geary (because the 2-line was already there), but by jogging down to Cabrillo Street. Loyal Muni riders could walk up to the Cliff House and Sutro Baths from there.
Muni took over the old Market Street Railway, including the 2-Clement line and its wooden terminal shed, in 1944. Many San Franciscans remember the smells of hotdogs and grease from the snack counters inside the terminal.
Muni was already planning to convert the 2-Clement to buses when a fire destroyed the terminal in 1949, truncating streetcar service. The pools themselves were closed shortly after, with an ice rink installed in a desperate attempt to make the ramshackle structure pay its way. Finally, in 1966, Sutro’s was incinerated in a spectacular fire. The ruins of the foundation are now a popular hiking spot, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, reachable by — the successor to Muni’s B-Geary line, the 38-Geary bus, which took over the outer end of the old 2-Clement.
As part of our San Francisco Railway Museum’s current exhibit on streetcar advertising through the years, we created a coffee mug bearing this historic Sutro’s ad.
You can purchase the mug at the museum or in our online store. And you can see more Sutro’s ads and learn more about how streetcars served recreational destinations in the city at the museum as well.
Happy memories on this anniversary day to all who remember Sutro’s! And if you’d like to learn more about Sutro Baths and see a treasure trove of photos, visit our friends at Outside Lands.