Adolph Sutro, part 2: Triumph of Life

Sutro Baths Architectural Drawings
The life and work of Adolph Sutro (1830-1898) provides ample material for exploration as we continue our survey of San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) resources. In the first post, we highlighted portions of the Adolph Sutro Collection and San Francisco Biography Collection. In this post, we'll look at architectural drawings, correspondence, photographs and books. And we'll touch on some enduring traces of Sutro's life.

SFPL houses the architectural drawings of the Sutro Baths. There are 286 drawings and prints that cover the years 1886-1952. A complete list is available at the San Francisco History Center's reference desk. Some of the drawings have been digitized by the National Park Service, which is now responsible for the property.

Kate Sutro report card

Hugo Sutro to Adolph Sutro
The library's Small Manuscripts Collection contains a set of letters sent from Adolph Sutro's children to him during the years 1872-1877. These include general news of the immediate family and report cards for the school age children. There are also a few letters from Adolph's brothers Hugo and Otto. Hugo's letter of December 7, 1872 refers to the Sutro Tunnel: "Your tunnel is progressing fine, & fortune appears to smile on you. You have worked extraordinary changes in that dreary region. When we walked over the line of the tunnel years ago & you dreamed of what there might yet be at the foot of the barren hills, little did we then think that to-day your dreams should be realities. You now have hundreds of men at work." There are typewritten transcripts for all of the letters. The SFPL map collection includes a marvelous 1866 map of the Sutro Tunnel, with a cross section of the surrounding hills and estimates of the amount of silver mined by the different claims.

Detail: Sutro Tunnel and the Comstock Lode map, 1866
Richmond Blocks, Stable Property
The San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection includes many images of Sutro, his business ventures, and his monuments. Many of these images are available online in the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection's database. The Collection also includes a photo album of Sutro estate properties prepared by A.S. Baldwin for its appraisal in 1910. Here are two sample images taken from the  Estate of Adolph Sutro (SFP 3) photo album. They show blocks in the Richmond District that were surveyed for the valuation of the Sutro estate. They are beautiful records of the state of Richmond development in 1910. To see the full photo album, please visit during Photo Desk hours.

Richmond Blocks in 1910

There are a few biographies of Sutro. These include: Robert E. Stewart's Adolph Sutro: a Biography (1962) and Adolph Sutro: a Brief Story of a Brilliant Life (1895) by Eugenia Kellogg Holmes. In addition, local newspapers, such as the San Francisco Chronicle Historical and The Wasp, include contemporary coverage of his activities from 1865 until his death in 1898. The Chronicle also covers the disposition of the Sutro estate into the 1910s.

The San Francisco Public Library's book collection also includes some of Sutro's published writings. Several of these are about mining, but there are other topics and issues as well: A Trip to Washoe (1942); a Lecture on Mines and Mining (1874) delivered at Piper's Opera House, Nevada City; The Mineral Resources of the United States...with Special Reference to the Comstock Lode and the Sutro Tunnel (1868); Adolph Sutro's Letter to the Regents of the University of California and to the Committee of Affiliated Colleges on the Selection of a Site for the Affiliated Colleges (1895); and, unsurprisingly, The Advantages and Necessity of a Deep Drain Tunnel for the Great Comstock Ledge (1865).

The Famous Cliff House and Seal Rocks from Sutro Heights, San Francisco Public Library

Liberty Statue receipt

There are also several books about Sutro Baths and Sutro Heights, and a number of reports regarding the Sutro Tunnel. A handful of DVDs and videos about Sutro Baths are also in the library's collection. Search the library's catalog to explore these topics further.

Enduring Legacy
The various buildings and monuments that Sutro built still imbue the city and its environs with a sense of grandeur from days gone by. The Cliff House, Sutro Baths, Sutro Heights, and the Triumph of Light statue are all legacies from a man who was larger than life and believed that it was his responsibility to share his good fortune with the public. Sadly, many of these structures are in ruins. The Triumph of Light is mostly a memory now. Sutro originally called it "Liberty Statue," and its base is the only piece that survives today. In the Adolph Sutro Collection, I was interested and amused to find receipts for the cigars shared at the statue's dedication ceremony and for various studies done by the photographer I.W. Taber.

Liberty Statue receipt
Several of Adolph Sutro's building and collecting projects were intended as gifts to the City and County of San Francisco. The Sutro Library and Sutro Forest are lasting evidence of his desire to improve the welfare of the people of his adopted city. Sutro's book collection was amassed during the late 1800s and included treasures gathered overseas. The library was bequeathed to the City with the proviso that it remain within the city limits. As a result, several different institutions have stored the library over the years, including the San Francisco Public Library. The Sutro Library is now part of the California State Library system. The California State Library Foundation Bulletin (no. 104, 2012) includes several articles that discuss the Sutro Library, its history, and Adolph Sutro as a book collector.

San Miguel Ranch payroll, week ending January 4, 1895

Sutro Forest and Mount Sutro remind us of Adolph Sutro's vision for the city. In celebration of San Francisco’s first Arbor Day in 1886, Sutro began planting Mount Parnassus with imported blue gum eucalyptus, Monterey pine, Monterey cypress and possibly other species. The Sutro Collection contains payrolls for tree planting in the 1890s. The example from January 4, 1895 documents many laborers planting trees, while the one from September 28, 1894 indicates far fewer laborers planting but several men hired to watch for fire. I was pleased to see that the horse received his due for hauling trees.

San Miguel Ranch payroll, week ending September 28, 1894
Mount Parnassus was renamed in honor of Sutro, and now, 120 years later, the eucalyptus trees are the predominant species. Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve is a 61-acre property owned and managed by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). The Forest is the subject of news today as a result of the conflicting opinions by neighborhood residents and UCSF on its proper maintenance. But Sutro would be pleased to see that the reserve is open to the public and features many hiking trails. His influence and good intentions are still felt to this day, and we, the people of San Francisco, are the richer for it. That is Sutro's final triumph.

The Sutro Baths Architectural Drawings, the Small Manuscripts Collection, the Estate of Adolph Sutro photograph album, the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, and the Adolph Sutro Collection are available at the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library.