PSST! HEY KID! WANT 25 BUCKS? THE SUTRO BATHS FIRE


Bad News Bruce - Posted on 16 February 2011

The title explains it all.  When this poverty skolah was 13, I was hanging out at the Cliff House in San Francisco.  I loved the two steam-powered motorcycles mounted above the doors of the Sutro Baths. 

A shady man came up to me.  "Wouldja like $25 kid?"  Twenty-five dollars in the 60's is like $250 today.  "What do I have to do sir?" I asked.  "There will be a fire here later," he said, "all ya gotta do is hide somewhere and throw rocks at the firemen." 

I said no.  He went looking for another kid.  I went down to Playland at the beach to have a snack at The Hothouse, a Mexican restaurant.  As I was chomping on my tamale, I heard alarm bells and saw smoke.  I walked in that direction, thinking it was the Cliff House at first. I saw kids throwing rocks at firefighters from hiding places, including Seal Rocks. 

Cliff House and the Sutro Baths were built in the late 1800's.  Adolph Sutro, a millionaire, built them, along with Playland and a private railroad built along the cliffs going to the Presidio.  Sutro was also the first Jewish Mayor of San Francisco for a few years.  The Cliff House is like a cat, it has had seven lives so far, being refurbished for new generations of people to enjoy.   

His idea of an amusement park most likely inspired Walt Disney.  The Cliff House was a hotel then.  Tourists arrived on Sutro's train.  His mansion was surrounded by Playland.  The 1906 earthquake destroyed the mansion, which was abandoned.   

A suspended cable tram went back and forth between Seal Rocks and the Cliff House.  There used to be a penny arcade in the basement of the Cliff House (it has been moved), generations of children played with games 50 or 60 years older than them.  Older people visited the basement too, remembering when they were kids.  Thornton Kimes has been in that basement too. 

Inside Sutro Baths were the original costumes of "General Tom Thumb", a little-person performer for P.T. Barnum's Barnum & Bailey Circus.  Annie Oakley's supposed rifle was there too.  The baths were turned into an ice skating rink in the 1950's because people were afraid they would catch Polio from the pools. 

After the fire there was a proposal to build a five-story co-op housing (box) where the baths had been.  Because the Sutro Baths were registered as a landmark area, the project couldn't go forward.  The Federal Government turned it into a national park.   

What is left of the Sutro Baths is like dinosaur bones, like Roman ruins found near Hadrian's Wall.  Thornton Kimes and many others have walked in the ruins that look like a rat's maze.  This poverty skolah has a lump in his throat thinking about what used to be--Playland, the Baths, a place gentrifiers burned and failed to turn into money.   

This poverty skolah has more stories to tell about the San Francisco that used to be, before the current rush to gentrify finishes the rape that began so many years ago.

What is the point of this? Were the kids who threw rocks paid off? By whom, and for what? This has all the makings of a facinating story which, unfortunately, falls flat on its face.

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