Sutro Baths

San Francisco, California, USA

Demolished 1964 

The Disappointed Tourist: Sutro Baths, Ellen Harvey, 2021. Oil and acrylic on Gessoboard, 18 x 24″ (46 x 61 cm). Photograph: Etienne Frossard.

When I lived in the Bay Area, I was always amazed that there was this great big ruin just hanging out in the most beautiful part of San Francisco. I used to run into it all the time and be confronted with this alternate identity of the city, where the literal unwashed were welcomed with open arms. It seems impossibly distant and impossibly romantic now.  Sarah N.

I first learned of Sutro Baths not too long ago despite the fact that I have passed by its site probably hundreds of times. I learned of this piece of art and immediately the baths came to mind instantly. They were massive saltwater baths built right next to the ocean on the west side of San Francisco. They were built by a capitalist 1800’s type as a donation to the people, and after learning what the site once held and what it looked like I was really just disappointed. The view from the site is very powerful, and the idea of there being a set of baths to bathe in and view the scenery is really just grand. Its hard to convey really but I was disappointed for the rest of the day. Oren S.

Also requested by Angela E., Mira O.B. & Anon.

The self-made millionaire Adolph Sutro began building the Sutro Baths complex in 1894, starting with an ocean pool aquarium and finally constructing a massive three-acre public bathhouse. His goal was to provide an inexpensive swimming facility for thousands of San Franciscans. A classic Greek portal opened onto a massive glass enclosure containing seven swimming pools at various temperatures. There were slides, trapezes, springboards and a high dive. The Pacific Ocean during high tide could fill the 1.7 million gallons of water required for all the pools in just one hour. The complex could accommodate 10,000 people at one time but it was never commercially successful, despite later efforts to increase profitability by adding an ice-skating rink. In 1964, developers began demolition and in 1966 a fire destroyed what remained. The proposed replacement high-rise apartments never materialized, and the site remains a ruin in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The painting is based on a uncredited photograph on the National Parks Service website.