I Left My Heart in San Francisco History (pt. 2): The Fleishhacker Pool Ruins

The Fleishhacker Pool, built by Herbert Fleishhacker, was the largest single saltwater pool from 1925-1971.  It measured 1,000 ft long and 150 ft across, held 6,500,000 gallons of saltwater and could accommodate up to 10,000 bathers at once. It also consisted of a fairly large pool house (on the right in the picture below).

Similar to the Sutro Baths, the Fleishhacker Pool was filled by a series of pumps that took water directly from the ocean at high-tide.

The pool was so large, lifeguards had to patrol it by rowboat.

Row Boats

*Picture found on outsidelands.org

Not a whole lot is found on the Fleishhacker Pool during it’s heyday. It sounds like it had a healthy life until years of under funding and poor maintenance let to signs of deterioration.  Maintaining the pool and its facilities proved too much for the city of SF’s budget. After 1971 the pool was further damaged by a storm when a drainage pipe was rendered almost beyond repair.  As a cheap solution, the city decided to convert the saltwater pool into a freshwater pool; however, due to poor water quality, it closed that same year.

After it was closed, the pool turned into a mass waste area, where residents carelessly dumped their garbage.  It wasn’t until 1999 that the pool was filled with gravel and converted into a parking lot for the San Francisco Zoo.

The pool house was secured by the San Francisco Zoological Society the same year but remained in a state of disuse.  The windows were boarded but the homeless and graffiti artists still gained access to it for the next few years.  On December 1, 2012, a fire broke out which destroyed what remained of the pool house.  Sometime before March of 2013, the burned remains were razed. Only the signatory 3 doors remain as a facade in front of the mound of sand that used to be home the ornate pool house.

You can find pictures on flickr/just about anywhere on the internet from people who gained access to the pool house prior to the fire.  Even though I hate it when graffiti artists get into a beautiful place like this, it looks amazing. Check it out, and you’ll know what I mean. You can also use Google Earth to go into the parking lot and go into street view. The picture taken was before the fire, so you’re able to see most of the boarded-up pool house in all of it’s disheveled glory.

Today, you can see the ruins from the parking lot of the SF Zoo. You can stand exactly where people used to sunbathe and spend their youthful days prancing around in the sun.  The parking lot is located at Sloat Blvd. and Hwy 1. You can find free or metered parking on Sloat and walk into the parking lot.



I Left My Heart in San Francisco History (pt.1): The Sutro Baths

Originally, I was going to write a small compendium of historical places in San Francisco.  But once I started writing, I realized that each one really deserves its own page.  Consider this one: I Left My Heart in San Francisco History (pt.1).  Enjoy!

Once I found the Sutro Baths last year, (yes, I grew up in the East Bay and had NO idea this existed) I became obsessed with any history related to San Francisco around the era of Sutro.  The Sutro Baths were built by Adolf Sutro in 1894.  Sutro made his millions while in Nevada working in mining operations.  Not having much of a formal education, he was a self-taught scientist and architect.  After selling off his shares in mining, he came to San Francisco.  It is said that his belief was that the rich had an obligation to improve the lives of others in the working-class.  He did just that; realizing there was no place for families to swim or have fun (since the bay water temperature of SF is always a brisk freezing degrees) at an affordable cost.   He built the largest wave powered, heated, saltwater bath house in the world. During the construction of the bath house, Sutro served as Mayor of San Francisco for two terms. While nobody says expressly what he did, people say that he gave more than any other Mayor of San Francisco .

Though the bath house was finished in 1894, it didn’t open to the public for another two years. At the completion of construction, he was in the midst of a battle with the Southern Pacific Railroad-the RR wanted to double the fares to the bath houses.  Sutro asked politely to keep the round-trip rate at 5 cents.  When the RR denied him, he basically said, “To hell with the railroad! I’ll build my own.” And he did.

The bathhouse contained 7 pools, 6 large slides, diving boards, a museum, concession stands, and more.  The pools took 1.7 million gallons to fill and took up over 3 1/2 acres. The facility had a filtration and pump system from the Pacific Ocean into chambers which then heated and expelled the water to fill the baths.


*Picture found on SFGate.com

As popularity rose, Sutro added Vaudeville acts in the evening for entertainment, and ice skating.  Unfortunately, after Sutro died in 1907, bath houses slowly started losing their popularity.  His family kept the baths going until about 1937 then officially drained the pools to make the ice skating rinks a permanent attraction.  By 1952 the facility was becoming too expensive to maintain and the Sutro family sold the bath house to George Whitney (remember this name, you’ll hear it again later).  The Whitney family only ran the bath house for a short time before planning to demolish the facility to replace it with a sprawling condo development.  However, before demolition could be finished, a rather suspicious fire broke out in June 1966.  Within 24 hours, the Sutro Baths were almost nothing but cement and left over iron beams.  What you see today closely resembles what was left after the fire.

On Fire

*Picture found on SFGate.com

Since the fire, the City of San Francisco has protected this land by labeling it a historical monument. We don’t have to worry about the Sutro Bath ruins going anywhere anytime soon.

The ruins can be found to the left of The Cliff House restaurant on Point Lobos Ave. Parking is free but if you get there later in the day, it does get crowded.  Once parked, walk uphill, away from the Cliff House and you will come to a pathway leading down to the ruins.


Bonus: There are trails that run all over this place. If you follow the trail leading around to the Golden Gate Bridge, it is possible to see a few small pieces of shipwrecks from the 1920’s-30’s: The SS Ohioan, The Lyman A. Stewart and Frank H. Buck.


The Davenport Pier

Driving down hwy 1, taking in the smell of the salty air, the clean, blue bay area ocean, you’d never know what you were missing if you didn’t know where to look.

Across the street from a massive concrete plant stands the remains of what used to be the Davenport pier.  The pier was built by John Pope Davenport to be used as a lumber pier.  Due to the amount of mud washing in from the Agna Puerca creek, the ships couldn’t tie up to port.  An extension was added but it didn’t solve the problem.  Another pier was built; however, the location is unknown.  Then, due to a large storm (I believe) both piers were destroyed.  The only remnants are the beams of the Davenport pier.

The beams serve as a canvas for graffiti artists and a place of spectacle for others.  People have attempted to tight rope walk between two of the piers, as you can see if you search on YouTube.

Disclaimer:  Getting up close and personal with these massive structures is extremely dangerous.  During low-tide, I have heard that there is a path just north of the pier to take where you can walk around the rocks.  I went during the afternoon, so the water level has risen substantially since morning.  There is a path, but I’m not joking when I say it is more like a wall of slate.  More pieces fall apart at every step and there is zero leverage for you to hold onto of pull yourself up with.  I am a fairly adventurous person, but by the time I had made it half way down, I realized I couldn’t turn around and wished I hadn’t started the descent.  My fiance made it down to the sand, but I waited at a “checkpoint” if you will, where I saw a ton of old iron twisted and bent up from the where the pier used to connect to land.  When I got back to the top I wanted to throw myself onto the ground and start kissing it.  A great deal of coaching (from my fiance) was the only thing that got me back up to the top.  (I was about to say “forget it” and stay at my checkpoint until the water level went back down so I could hike around the rocks on the north side.)  Upon reaching the top, we promptly bee-lined it across the street to a little brewery and got the largest beers they had, which I’d have to say were pretty damn good.

There is quite a bit of the original pier left: iron beams, screws and bolts all rusting and sticking out from the hill, so if you choose to give this a try. Be VERY cautious. One misstep and you will most likely need to visit the nearest hospital.

The safest place to get pictures is from the Davenport Bluff, which is accessible from the dirt parking lot across from the Whale City Bakery & Brewery.

How to find this place: If you head down hwy 1 from Pescadero, you will eventually see a concrete plant on your left.  Turn right, toward the water into the dirt parking lot across from the plant.  You will have to walk across the railroad tracks to the coast before you will see the pier. Enjoy!

*The history of the pier is quite hard to come by. If you know something I haven’t mentioned or if any corrections need to be made, please let me know!