Adolph Sutro: King of the Comstock Lode and Mayor of San Francisco
William R. Huber
Adolph Sutro was forever seeking challenges. Emigrating from Prussia to the U.S. at age 20, the California gold rush lured him west. At the Comstock Lode in Nevada, he conceived an idea for a tunnel to drain the hot water that made the mines perilous and inefficient. But he would have to overcome both physical obstacles and powerful opposition by the Bank of California to realize his vision.
Back in San Francisco, Sutro bought one twelfth of the city, including the famous Cliff House perched over the Pacific Ocean. When it burned to cinders on Christmas Day, 1894, he built a massive, eight-story Victorian replacement. He used his expertise in tunneling and water solutions to create the world’s largest enclosed swimming structure, the Sutro Baths—six glass-covered heated saltwater pools with capacity of 1,000 swimmers.
challenges followed but Sutro was not invincible. After a two-year term as mayor of San Francisco, he succumbed to debilitating strokes which left him senile. His death in 1898 started disputes among his heirs—six children by his wife and two by his mistress—that lasted more than a decade.