This post has a few more old San Francisco images from the New York Public Library Digital Collections. The first two of postcards were taken before the addition of a major landmark, and the last was taken before the destruction of a major landmark.
Before the Bridge
The first photo is an undated postcard from the early 20th century, the pre-bridge Golden Gate glows at sunset. Unfortunately, the image is not terribly distinctive and to be honest, it doesn’t jump out to me as the Golden Gate — it could be any stretch of coastline. Even Ansel Adams’ famous photo doesn’t shout “Golden Gate!” I think that’s the power of the bridge — it became such a critical part of the landscape that it’s hard to think of the setting without it. (The Golden Gate wasn’t named for the gold fields that lay to the east of San Francisco, but after the “Golden Horn” in Turkey. For the full answer, see my earlier post called How the Golden Gate Got Its Name).
The next photo, marked “Copyright 1904”, is a view of Fort Point with Marin County in the background (today part of the Marin Headlands section of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area). These days, the Golden Gate Bridge towers over the fort, giving Fort Point a unique vista of the bridge (it might be the only piece of land where the public can be somewhat underneath the bridge).
Sutro’s Baths: A Long-Gone Swimming and Amusement Palace
The next image shows Sutro Baths, a massive entertainment complex located on the western edge of San Francisco (roughly at the end of Geary Blvd). In the early 20th century, the Sutro Baths were one of San Francisco’s top attractions, with several huge public swimming pools (somewhat like the “plunge” to which Buster Keaton brings a date in The Cameraman) and museums of curiosities and wonders. As time went on, popular tastes changed and expenses far outran revenues (it took a lot of energy to heat the frigid Pacific Ocean to a tolerable temperature), leading to its closure. During demolition in the 1960s a massive fire destroyed what remained. Today the site is a modern-day ruins that is open for exploration as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (and also serves as a starting point for a trail along San Francisco’s northwestern coast). In recent years the most exciting event at the ruins was the appearance of a river otter (“Sutro Sam”) in the ponds.
Plenty of history about the baths has been written or filmed, like a page at the National Park Service, the film Sutro’s: The Palace at Lands End (highly recommended), and several books (e.g., Sutro’s Glass Palace and Lost San Francisco).
- Postcard images from The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1898 – 1931. Links to the pages at the NYPL: Golden Gate postcard, Fort Point postcard, and Sutro Baths postcard
- Photo of Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point by the author
- Photo of Ruins of Sutro Baths from jtu’s Flickr collection, subject to a Creative Commons License
- Photo of Sutro Baths and Museum Advertisementfrom California Historical Society’s Flickr collection, no known copyright restrictions