Sutro Baths (San Francisco): A four panel lithograph, 1886

This blog is regarding another unusual work in inventory that is too large to exhibit but is a remarkable artistic and historic work.

Sutro Baths 4 panel lithograph, 1886

This large, four panel lithograph was done by an anonymous artist for the San Francisco businessman and former mayor Adolphe Sutro who, in 1881, bought most of the western headlands of San Francisco foreseeing the growth of the city to the shore of the Pacific Ocean.

In 1886, Sutro Baths opened to a dazzled public at the astounding cost of one million dollars.  Spread over three acres, the artistic detail and engineering ingenuity were impressive: A classic Greek portal opened to a massive glass enclosure containing one fresh water tank, five salt-water tanks at various temperatures and a large salt water tank at ocean temperature. Together the pools held 1,685,000 gallons of sea water and could be filled or emptied in one hour by the high or low tides. There were 20,000 bathing suits and 40,000 towels for rent as well as slides, trapezes, springboards and a high dive for up to 1,600 bathers.  There were 517 changing rooms and a capacity for 7,400 bathers. Balmy temperatures and abundant plants enhanced “California’s Tropical Winter Garden”.

Photo of Sutro Baths

Diners could choose from three restaurants that could accommodate 1,000 people at a seating. There were natural history exhibits, galleries of sculptures, paintings, tapestries and artifacts from Aztec, Mexican, Egyptian, Syrian, Chinese and Japanese cultures. An amphitheater, seating up to 3,700 people, provided a variety of stage shows. Up to 25,000 people could easily visit the facilities each day for a mere ten cents (twenty five cents for swimming). Sutro’s dream was realized as the San Francisco populous streamed to the Baths on one of three five cent railroads connecting to the city.

For all the glamour and excitement, the success of Sutro Baths was short lived. By 1937, Adolph Sutro’s grandson realized the baths were no longer commercially successful so he converted the large tank into an ice skating rink. Sutro Baths never regained its popularity and the ice-skating revenue was not enough to maintain the enormous building. In 1966, the site was sold to land developers who began demolition so they could build high-rise apartments. A fire quickly finished the demolition work and thus ended the eighty year history of Sutro Baths.

The property was acquired in 1980 by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area for $5,500,000.00.  The foundations still remain.

The billboard was originally done to advertize the baths to the public and was posted around San Francisco. Text was added after the billboard was posted, each of the 4 sheets had to be carefully mounted. About a dozen of the posters were found in a warehouse in San Francisco in the late 1960’s.

More information can be found regarding this print on our website at: http://www.annexgalleries.com/inventory/detail/JHAE101/Unidentified/Sutro-Baths-San-Francisco

About Annex Galleries

The Annex Galleries holds one of the largest original fine print inventories on the West Coast. With over 9,000 works, we specialize in (but are not limited to) original prints of the WPA era, Arts & Crafts movement, and Abstract Expressionism through the 1960's, with a focus on American and Californian artists both known and unknown. We have everything from Durer to Baumann to Picasso.
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2 Responses to Sutro Baths (San Francisco): A four panel lithograph, 1886

  1. Kathe Baldwin says:

    Is it possible to purchase a copy of this print, in a size for a regular house? I love this natatorium picture.

    • We aren’t sure where you could purchase a reproduction, though if you were to contact the San Francisco tourism center they might be able to point you in the right direction. This is a fairly well-known print. Best of luck!

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