Peering through mists to see San Francisco at the turn of the century

The ghost of San Francisco circa 1900 may haunt some of the narrow alleys of Chinatown. You might sense its presence in the Ferry Building, completed in 1898, and one of the very few large buildings to survive the earthquake in 1906.

Ferry Building

But by and large, the city is a modern one that breathes more vitality than nostalgic sighs. To find the past, you must sit quietly,  calm your heart and breathing, and drain  your mind of all thoughts.

The Victorian Cliff House was finished in 1896
The Victorian Cliff House was finished in 1896

At age 33, a photographer named Willard Worden moved to San Francisco.

Through his lens, we catch a glimpse of the beautiful city that once existed, was destroyed in the earthquake, and rose from the ashes like a phoenix to rebuild itself.

Take a few moments to look at his beautiful photographs. His pictures of Cliff House, at the height of its beauty and in its last moments, are fascinating..

San Francisco, on a still evening in 1903
San Francisco, on a still evening in 1903

 

 

 

Cliff House
Cliff House sitting silently above the peaceful ocean

 

 

Cliff House on fire, 1907
Cliff House Burning, 1907

 

Chinatown
Chinatown

Waverly Place

 

Adolph Sutro, the owner of Cliff House, did not live to see it burn. However, he did see the completed construction of the Sutro Baths in 1894.

The massive bathhouse was open to the public, and designed to be a place where San Francisco residents could swim safely and enjoy art, music, and food.  The Baths were massive; they had a capacity of 10,000 people.

 

In 1897, the Sutro baths were so famous as to be filmed by Thomas Edison, himself.

Sutro died in 1898, and the Baths fell on hard times during the Depression, through poverty and what is generally referred to as “public health laws”. The Sutro Baths may have found even mild restrictions to be onerous: amongst other things, the Baths offered bathing suits for rent.

 

image
Adolph Sutro

Both of Sutro’s masterpieces were destined to perish in flames: the Baths were scheduled for demolition in the 1960’s, when they caught fire and were destroyed.

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