What was exact cause of Sutro Baths fire?

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I've heard conjecture about the exact cause of the fire at Sutro Baths in 1966. One source says "children playing with fireworks" started the blaze. Another theory says the cause was arson (for the insurance). Was the cause ever determined? Also, in what part of the building did the fire start?


Dan Fontes

-- Dan Fontes (danfontes@yahoo.com), February 07, 2001


I'm not sure what the exact cause of the fire was either. I've heard that because the building was already in the process of being demolished, the fire was started accidentally from an electrical source. I've heard that it was started by a teenager who was later picked up by the police. I've heard that the baths were burned on purpose to cut down on demolition costs, etc. However,I was told by someone who actually watched the Sutro Baths fire that the blaze started in the north end of the building and burned north to south (towards the Cliff House). But that is just what I have been told....

-- Christine Miller (Jadite30@aol.com), April 02, 2001.

Dan, Found this URL with a mini history of the Sutro Baths:

http://www.sfchangehappens-books.com/sys-tmpl/oldnewsanfranciscophotos/ view_all.nhtml

It takes a while to load with all its pictures, but is worthwile.

As to the fire, I seem to recall that in the publication "Shaping of San Francisco, an insurance policy was mentioned, but please read more on the CD they released; general info is at:


-- Wolfgang Schubert (chouby@aol.com), April 27, 2001.

I've had the same question myself for some time. There is quite a fascinating convergence of events on this day in SF, as not only did Lenny Bruce perform his last concert at the Fillmore, but the Rolling Stones and Jefferson Airplane performed at the Cow Palace. Both of these events may add creedence to the wayward youth theory; the fact of the matter remains that the fire expedited what was already underway with the demolition, though, and it is not too conspiratorial to suspect that someone may not have wanted to continue pouring money into the project and decided to arrange for it, with less expense...

-- Derek Reimer (think@seriouslysubrosa.com), July 08, 2001.

I missed the news of the burning of the Sutro baths at the time they burned; I was out of state. However I remember going to Sutro's when I was a young girl, about 1947 or 1948 with my mother to see the ice skating rink. She lived in San Francisco when she was young and often skated there. It seemed like a huge place, but what really impressed me was the museum-like entrance. Visitors descended the flights of steps lined with glass cases of very old artifacts. There were old costumes and pictures made of human hair. I think there were also mounted birds. All of this seemed so dry and old. I have often wondered if they were there when the building burned. I didn't know until now that the building was being torn down. So many old California landmarks have burned,ie. the hotel at Glacier Point in Yosemite Park, the ski lodge on Mt. Shasta, the castle that Hearst built for his mother somewhere on the Sacramento River, and many others. I am fortunate that I was born at a time when I could see these places not the castle Hearst built; it was very private);I really wish my children could have seen them.

-- Ln Acitelli (lostudio@hotmail.com), January 04, 2002.

Re: the artifacts such as the eqyptian collection at the Sutro baths were not burned. They were donated by the Whitneys prior to the demolition and fire. The collection can be viewed at times at Univ. of SF.

-- Paul Edises (ajphoenix2000@yahoo.com), October 06, 2002.

I watched it burn that Sunday morning. I often swam in the swimming pools that ranged from cold to hot. Baggie swim suits could be rented as well as very large inner tubes. The diving pool was in existence. Ice skating was popular. Mummies and other artifacts adorned the interior. Access was gained by walking down levels. The color green remains in my mind and was used throughout.

-- Barbara Hughes (barbara_hughes@ci.sf.ca.us), November 10, 2002.

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