VIPs in the Port of San Francisco

Adolph Heinrich Joseph Sutro


Adolph Heinrich Joseph Sutro was born in Aachen, Prussia, April 29, 1830. He had an excellent education in the field of mining engineering. He arrived in San Francisco aboard the steamship California November 21, 1850, and immediately engaged in trade, first in San Francisco and later in Stockton.

In 1859, when the Comstock Lode made headlines, he was again attracted to mining. He established a small mill, called the Sutro Metallurgical Works, in East Dayton, Nevada, for the reduction of ores by an improved process of amalgamation, and was responsible for planning and construction of the Sutro Tunnel. This tunnel made it possible to drain and ventilate the many mines in the Comstock Lode and to permit the miners to safely bring out the rich silver ore.

In 1879 Sutro sold his tunnel to the McCalmont brothers and countless lesser investors, and he returned to San Francisco.

He ran for mayor of San Francisco in 1894 on the Populist ticket, as the "Anti-Octopus" candidate, which opposed the politics of the Southern Pacific Railroad. He served one term. At one time he owned one-twelfth of the acreage in San Francisco.

He purchased the Cliff House in the early 1880s and a thousand acres of land facing the ocean, now named Sutro Heights. He also built the famed Sutro Baths and planted Sutro Forest. He owned the finest private library in the United States, most of which was destroyed during the Great Earthquake and Fire.

November 25, 1893, San Francisco Call

He Subscribes to Improve the Boulevard.
The Park Commissioners Making Extensive Changes at the Cliff and Ocean Beach.

The Park Commissioners were agreeably surprised yesterday on receiving a check for $300 from Adolph Sutro. Only a short while before they received a check for $1200 from A. P. Hotaling.

Both contributions were expressly intended as donations toward needed improvements on the ocean boulevard and driveway to the Cliff House, where for lack of a road horses had to wade almost knee deep in the soft sand, and pedestrians to scramble as best they could over rough ground or slush, according to the season. With these checks in hand the Commissioners set to work on the boulevard, which will be extended in an unbroken line to the foot of Sutro Heiehts. A wide and level macadam avenue will take the place of sand. There will be trees amd ornamental shrubs at each side. Toward the ocean bunches of sand grass will be planted, and in a very short time the sand will be completely covered close to high water.

From the northern end of the boulevard a driveway sixty feet in width will lead to the cliff. The grade is to be materially altered so that a gentle ascent will take the place of the present incline. To widen the road large quantities of rock will be blasted from the overhanging cliff. This will mean cutting a way through solid rock for quite a long distance. The debris will be utilized to fill up hollows and raise the lower grade below by extending it to the beach boulevard.

"This Improvement was badly needed," said Superintendent McLaren, "it will add greatly to the appearance of the beach and cliff, and this is a good time to have it done before strangers come to San Francisco.

"But that is not all we intend doing this winter. If the Midwinter Fair had not come at all we would spend $40,000 in Concert Valley, where the main buildings now stand; and I believe it would be much prettier as we planned it originally. A great many fine trees had to be cut down, but I expect a splendid variety of palms, trees and shrubs from the counties exhibiting at the fair. These will be left behind, and the park will be better off than ever. Because the fair came we don't intend to keep that $40.000 in bank. It will be expended in different parts of the park without delay. The boathouse is going up, and there will be plenty of boats as soon as it is finished. A large part of the money will be spent in improvements in and about the water works, which are nearly finished."

February 8, 1898, Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California



The Famous Tunnel Builder No Longer Competent to Look After His Real Estate

San Francisco, Feb 7. -- Adolph Sutro, ex-mayor of San Francisco and builder of the famous Sutro tunnel, has been adjudged mentally incompetent by Superior Judge Belcher. His daughter, Dr. Emma Sutro-Merritt, who has been in constant professional attendance on her father for many months past, has been appointed guardian of his person and estate, her bonds being fixed at $100,000. Her two brothers and her sister, who reside in this city, became sureties on the bond. Mr. Sutro is over 8O years of age and the loss of his mental faculties is attributed to the weight of years, combined with the effects of two strokes of apoplexy, which he has suffered within the past few months. The petition to have his daughter appointed his guardian was made by Col. Little, manager of the Sutro properties, after the members of the family and their attorneys had decided that such a step was necessary.

Sutro, Comstock.

The effect that the withdrawal of Mr. Sutro from business may have upon the various enterprises with which he was connected, is a matter to be determined by the family and the lawyers. His interests are so vast and diversified that the manner of their disposition is a matter of great interest. A large part of his fortune is in real estate. In San Francisco alone he owns over 1800 acres of land, about one-eighth of the taxable area of the entire county.

Among other valuable holdings are the Sutro Electric Railroad, the Sutro library and stacks of gilt-edged bonds. In the present condition of the real estate market, it is rather difficult to appraise the value of his local realty, but a conservative estimate places it at a little under $4,000,000. The Sutro Baths alone cost nearly $1,000,000.

Mr. Sutro was a native of Germany and is 81 years of age. His career up to the time he inaugurated the scheme to tunnel from the Carson river valley was comparatively humble and obscure. He was a dealer in tobacco and pipes in this city in the early days, and subsequently removed to Nevada, where he engaged in the tobacconist's trade in several mining camps, finally settling in Virginia City.

In 1864 he secured from the Nevada Legislature the right of way for his famous tunnel, which was commenced on October 19, 1869, and concluded July 8, 1878 at a cost $5,069,801. In addition to his mining ventures in Nevada he edited a newspaper.

He was Interested in politics and at various, times opposed William Sharon, John P. Jones and William M. Stewart for the position of United States Senator.

The Evening Post announced some three weeks ago that Mayor Sutro was incompetent, but his friends vigorously denied the story at that time, stating that he was merely indisposed and would be able to resume attention to business in a few days. (Image: Comstock Lode, Washow District, Nevada. 1879.)

January 17, 1895, San Francisco Call

Sutro Congratulated.

Mayor Sutro received the following telegram yesterday:

"Mayor Sutro: Accept congratulations for the steps you have taken in attempting to bring bribe-givers to justice."

H. S. Pekigree, Mayor.

Sutro had been developing the Sutro Bath project for years, attempting four separate times to insulate the site from waves using sea walls, the first three of which collapsed into the Pacific Ocean.

On March 14, 1896 Sutro Baths finally opened to a dazzled public at a cost of more than $500,000. 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 and six salt-water tanks, all at various temperatures. Together the pools held 1,685,000 gallons of seawater 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.

San Francisco Call, October 6, 1896, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Crowds at Sutro Baths.

Thousands of men, women and children crowded to the ocean yesterday, thronging the Cliff House and Sutro baths. The California Swimming Club gave an interesting exhibition, and there was music.

Sutro Baths.

The building contained three restaurants that could accommodate 1,000 people at a seating and was stocked with treasures that Sutro had collected during his travels. A 3,700-seat amphitheater provided entertainment and up to 25,000 people could visit each day for a mere 10 cents (25 cents for swimming). Sutro?s dream was realized as the San Francisco populace streamed to the baths riding the excursion railroad he built to reach them. The railroad grade still exists as a walking trail along the Land?s End cliffs.

San Francisco Call , January 16, 1899, San Francisco

Chutes and Sutro's Baths.

Sutro Baths, San Francisco. 1800s.

Considering' the weather good crowds congregated at the Chutes and Sutro's Baths. At the former place Planka entertained the feathering and aquatic sports were the attraction at the baths.

By 1937 Sutro?s grandson realized the baths were no longer commercially successful; an upper deck was turned into an ice-skating rink with glass walls overlooking the pools below, however, the pools remained open to the public until the early 1950s.

Sutro Baths never regained its popularity and the ice-skating revenue was not enough to maintain the enormous building. George Whitney purchased the Sutro Baths in 1952 from Sutro's grandson and 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 80-year history of Sutro Baths.

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



Kindly Kindly support our work.


DALevy @
164 Robles Way
Suite 237
Vallejo, California
94591 ~ USA

Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

Please inform us if you link from your site. Please do NOT link from your site unless your site specifically relates to immigration in the 1800s, family history, maritime history, international seaports, and/or California history.