Thanks to a friend on FaceBook, I found this great video of San Francisco from 1955. It’s a travelog sort of film that makes San Francisco look like Disneyland in many ways. If you think you know the City, see how many places you’ll find that are different today than they were then. I honestly got all of them even though Sutro Baths was closed just after I was born. I’d like to do a remake of this film using the same voice over and locations, but with today’s scenes. Sounds like fun anyone in on it with me?
Lands End Lookout
The northern end of the beach used to be the go to place for fun. You had Playland, the Cliffhouse, an Oriental Tea Garden [which the owners later moved to Golden Gate Park for the 1894 midwinter exposition] and Sutro Baths. All except the Cliffhouse are gone now and when the Cliffhouse was remodeled the visitor’s center down below it left for good. Luckily though the new Lands End Lookout has done a very good job of taking it’s place.
Expect to see a lot of things for sale there. They do need to make money to keep the doors open for free, but all the proceeds go towards the park service which is a good thing. The best part is that they stuff they have to sell is stuff you actually would want to buy. I thought the reproduction signs from the old Sutro Baths were pretty cool and if I had extra money laying around I would have bought one. There are also products that focus on the area such as locally produced foods and by locally I mean really locally. Many of the books and DVD’s that they have to sell will give you some good insight into the history of the area. I was always bothered by the fact that I was born just a little to late to ever see the Sutro Baths, but the other part of the Lands End Lookout is a museum. A small museum, but a very well done small museum. They have twin screens with a slideshow on the left of Sutro Park, the Bath’s and Playland and on the right is short footage of activities from around that area. From the hour I stayed there I saw that most of it seemed to be about the Sutro Baths.
They also have extensive information about the Ramaytush tribe of the Ohlone Indians who lived in and around the area. It’s really quite fascinating to see how a windy, foggy, rainy, but occasionally sunny place could be so loved by these people who called it home because of the easy amount of food and water and shelter they could find there. There are also stations in the room covering Sutro Baths, Playland as well as Adolph Sutro and his Mansion in Sutro Park just up the hill.
If you’re in need of a little refreshment there is a cafe next door which made me smile when they had a prominent sign that proclaimed Playland at the Beach It’s-Its. They also offer another San Francisco staple, the bay shrimp cocktail. They also offer a number of soups and sandwiches as well all from local produce and livestock. Don’t worry, my vegan friends, they’ve got a few things for you as well. I’d have to price the food on the inexpensive side, but for me I still think a coke and a hot-dog should run you $2.50 tops.
From the outside the architecture is modern, but with a very Sam Francisco Ocean Beach feel to it. They’ve planted native grasses all around which obviously need some time to get settled and grow up a bit and of course, except to find some sand blowing around. After all you are right up from the beach. On a side note the parking lot for the Lands End Lookout was formerly used for many years on the weekends by teenagers to come and watch the submarine races and if you don’t know what that really means then you aren’t from around these parts.
This is a great place to visit and I enjoyed it so much that I made a little gallery of all the pictures I took so you can see more about it. Now I’d like to see more places move into the area to give more people a reason to go there.
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Sutro Baths: The Glory Days
I missed out on the Sutro Baths. A major fire in 1966 pretty much gutted the place and I was too young to have visited there let alone remember this place that through pictures was a glorious place to visit.
Opening in 1896, the Sutro Baths named after former Major Adolph Sutro who financed the build as well as the Cliff House next door created a natatorium similar to the old Roman baths, only well, bigger. We’re San Francisco and we have to one up everyone including the Holy Roman Empire. It was the largest indoor swimming pool establishment in the world at the time with one freshwater pool and six saltwater pools. You had hot pools, cool pools, tepid pools BIG pools and small pools, but it was more than just the water.
Sutro Baths was also home to the Musee Mechanique that I’ve written about before as well as a museum, concert hall that could hold up to 8000 people and an ice skating rink not to mention the obvious food vendors all around the place.
This was the type of place you would have expected to see young gentlemen in suits and hats with long mustaches and canes walking around with young ladies at their arms walking through the imported tropical palm trees gazing in amusement at the novelties that Adolph had brought back from his travels around the world. They even had their own Cliff House railroad to bring people from, “the city” to the outside lands more easily.
During high tide the pools would be refilled with roughly two million gallons of water within an hour and at low tide they would use a large centrifuge pump to do the same. It was like an 8th wonder of the world to many and it was know around the world. Sadly the operating costs got out of control and by the start of the 60’s only the skating rink remained.
[mappress mapid=”35″]Now it is a shell of what it used to be, but there is still some interesting things to find in that shell. The high tides bring up deep dwelling fish and invertebrates that get deposited in the remaining ponds. There is one specific area that you have to break the law by climbing a metal fence and walking down some rickety stairs to a small observation deck that was built on a rock that is home to thousands of sea anemones. There is a little bridge area that goes into a now sealed off cave where people where found dead inside with no apparent cause of death. In the pool on either side of the bridge at night you can see the phosphorescent flashlight fish as they are commonly know glowing in the pools. It has a very H.P. Lovecraft feel to it.
There is also the remains of the rock bridge that took you out to fisherman’s rock. It was destroyed because too many fisherman would be out there oblivious to the tides and get swept away. There is also Seal Rock which was famous for its seals and seal lions prior to their vacating for more upscale digs at Fisherman’s Wharf. It has been said that groups of Satanists and Black Magicians have even gathered in this place to hold rituals. Who knows? It would be fitting for this place.
Now if I only had the chance to go back in time to experience it in it’s heyday. Any Black Magicians out there want to lend me a hand?