Sutro's Glass Palace by John A. Martini
Kirkus Star

Sutro's Glass Palace

The Story of Sutro Baths
Email this review


Martini relates the history of a now-defunct California attraction in this lavishly illustrated volume.

At the western edge of San Francisco, visitors will find a curious set of ruins at Ocean Beach which, from above, look something like a flooded ice-cube tray carved into the hillside. From 1896 to 1966, the Sutro Baths were an important city landmark: a lavish complex of pools, bleachers, changing rooms, restaurants, exhibits and displays. It was built of glass, iron, wood, and reinforced concrete, and its water was supplied directly by the ocean. Older city residents, like the author, will remember ice skating “in the cavernous former bathhouse” and peering through “gaps in the painted-over windows into the closed section of the building, where I could see a labyrinth of half-drained swimming tanks and endless bleacher seats marching toward the ceiling.” This fine book tells the story of how Adolph Sutro, a German-born businessman and politician, conceived and built the Baths, their eventual decline (mostly due to the high cost of maintenance) and plans for their future. Sutro, who served as mayor of San Francisco for a short time, did nothing by halves; he told a reporterin 1894 that a “small place would not satisfy me. I must have it large, pretentious, in keeping with the Heights and the great ocean itself.” In addition to swimming, the complex offered contests, “band concerts, trick diving exhibitions, acrobatic acts, May Day celebrations, and animal acts.” Martini tells this story clearly and well, providing not just period photographs, but also new architectural illustrations which greatly illuminate the Baths’ complicated structure. He also provides contemporary photos of the now-skeletal ruins alongside artist’s renderings of the complex when it was first built, which may help readers relate the past to the present day. Martini also offers many lively anecdotes from newspaper accounts, court documents and other sources to bring this past wonder to life.

A beautiful resource about a mysterious San Francisco landmark. 

Publisher: Hole in the Head Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2014


IndieSutro's Glass Palace by John A. Martini
by John A. Martini
IndieCHICAGO BOUND by Sean Vogel
by Sean Vogel
IndieWILDFIRE by Ralph T Ryan
by Ralph T Ryan


NonfictionCALIFORNIA FAULT by Thurston Clarke
by Thurston Clarke
NonfictionSAN FRANCISCO IS BURNING by Dennis Smith
by Dennis Smith