By Beth Lederer
A new pop-up museum, “Museum of the Cliff,” at the old Cliff House gift shop is open until April 2022.
This is the perfect destination to view the remnants from the past, a bygone era. The Western Neighborhood Project (WNP), with the assistance of other organizations, was key in bringing history back to life. You can take a stroll down memory lane by viewing the history of both the Sutro Baths and the Cliff House.
Some items were newly acquired by the WNP from the Cliff House auction in March 2021. The staff is very excited to share this history and listen to memories of those who come to view the museum. The museum brings to life picturesque scenes of Playland-at-the -Beach, Sutro Gardens and Baths and the Cliff House Restaurant. There is one picture and article describing the Sutro Baths which would have cost approximately $31,000,000 if built today.
It was magnificent — six swimming pools heated in different temperatures with water collected from the Pacific Ocean. On display in the museum are two bathing suits that would have been handed out to patrons while swimming at the Sutro Baths. This was a huge complex accommodating 25,000 swimmers, built with the wealth that Adolph Sutro was able to acquire as a mining engineer modernizing the Comstock tunnel. These baths are an important part of San Francisco history.
There were supposedly four Cliff Houses, Adolph Sutro’s second Cliff House was built as a resemblance to a French Chateau on the edges of the cliff. It was opulent and spectacular, showcasing restaurants, art galleries, lunch galleries, parlors and verandas. This spectacular Cliff House unfortunately burned down in 1907. The new Cliff House was built in 1909, which is the one which we see today. This Cliff House also has a rich history with changes of ownership throughout the decades.
In the latest chapter, the future of the Cliff House is once again yet to be determined.
March 26, 2022 Correction: Adolph Sutro did not modernize the Comstock tunnel. Rather, as Sutro Tunnel manager Chris Pattison has pointed out, “He built the Sutro Tunnel, a 4 mile long drainage adit that runs through the Comstock Lode.”