Three More Old Postcards of San Francisco: the Golden Gate, Fort Point and Sutro Baths

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 Golden Gate Before the Bridge - from NYPL Digital Collections
Postcard showing the Golden Gate, early 20th century (NYPL Digital Collections)

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).

Postcard of Fort Point from the NYPL Digital Collections
Postcard of Fort Point and the Golden Gate, early 20th century (NYPL Digital Collections)
Inside Fort Point underneath the Golden Gate 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.

Postcard of Sutro Baths from NYPL Digital Collections
Detail of a postcard of Sutro Baths (NYPL Digital Collections)

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).

Sutro Baths from Flickr user jtu
Ruins of Sutro Baths, 2012 (from Flickr user jtu, CC-2.0)
Sutro Baths pamphlet from California Historical Society on Flickr 14320206168_33a4b8f223_b
Advertisement for Sutro Baths and Museum,1923 (California Historical Society)

Image Credits


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