The weather in San Francisco

December 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

Sutro Baths

Sutro Baths

I can’t remember where or when I first heard about the Sutro Baths, but whenever it was, I was immediately intrigued and resolved to see them someday. As must be obvious by now, I love a good ruin, and if it has to do with bathing, so much the better. (One of my favourite museums in the world is La Piscine in Roubaix, built within the shell of an Art Deco swimming pool.)

There’s a good story behind them, too. The baths’ namesake is one Adolph Sutro, a German-Jewish mining engineer who made his fortune during the Gold Rush. He was astute enough to get out of mining before it went into decline and sank his wealth into real estate in San Francisco. And he could have taught today’s real estate moguls a thing or two about civic-mindedness – he turned the vast gardens surrounding his own estate into a public park, and a large parcel of land overlooking the ocean into what was, in 1896, the world’s largest public indoor swimming establishment. (Apparently, he was also so horrified that ordinary San Franciscans would have to pay a whopping ten cents to reach the baths on the city’s streetcars that he built his own line which charged a five-cent fare instead.)

The baths were glamorous and popular at first, but by the 1930s they had sunk into decline. In 1966 the abandoned baths burned down and all that remains are ruins whose ancient appearance belies their actual age.

Three weeks ago I found myself in San Francisco and resolved that this time I’d visit the baths. San Francisco is gradually becoming my new hometown (my mother and stepfather moved to Sacramento two years ago, so when I go home for a visit, that’s where I land) and I’ve been enjoying exploring this rather magical place. Part of what makes San Francisco so unlike anywhere else is the weather – you can be riding the bus alongside Golden Gate Park under a cloudless sky and, after crossing an ordinary-looking street, run straight into a wall of fog. By the time you reach the ocean you’re wandering in banks and wisps of sunny fog that seem composed of equal parts pearl dust and smoke.

Ocean BeachSutro Baths 2Sutro Baths 3Sutro Baths 4Sutro Baths 5Sutro Baths 6Sutro Baths 7Sutro Baths 8Sutro Baths 9Sutro Baths 10Sutro Baths 11

Most of the photos I’ve seen of the Sutro Baths have been taken in bright, unshaded sunshine. I feel especially lucky to have had the chance to capture them in what seems like more typical San Francisco weather.

(Technical specs: Diana F+ camera, standard lens, colour slide film (cross-processed)

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