03/07/05 - posted by Mary Lou
I too have wonderful memories of Sutro Bathes and Playland. When I was really small I would go with my Mom and Dad to swim at the salty pools in Sutors. I hated the scratchy bathing suits and rubber caps you had to wear but loved the warm pool. I don't think I ever ventured into the Big Ice Pool. I can still smell the salt water.
My Dad would take me to Playland and tell me stories of how he would go there as a boy. He'd take me on the Big Dipper, with all it's creeks and rattles, but we didn't care, it was thrilling. We'd go on the Plunge, that big round thing that dipped into the water so you could see? Who knows what? We'd ride that bullet thing that made noise as it took you up and down. I was afraid of Laughing Sally then, she was scary. We'd eat chocolate dipped bananas and It's-It's, sometimes you can still find them in markets. There was nothing like the hamburgers, they tasted so good in the salty air. And the Hot House, such good tamales.
When I got a bit older I would go with my friend who took Ice Skating lessons each Sat. morning at Sutros. I would fall around the rink as she twirled in the middle. I too remember going into the bathroom there and looking out, seeing the waves on the rocks. I think you could even see them through the floor boards that, I'm sure now, were rotting. We'd scrap the paint off the windows alongside the rink and look down into the now drained and empty pools. It was sad.
I remember the Barnum displays at the foot of the stairs. Tom Thumb and his tiny wife, the mummies, the weird collections. And the torture devises, I think they were from "Ripley's Believe It or Not". The Chinese manikin with eyes that looked so real. Us kids always thought the place was haunted at night. There were rumors that someone lived in there and wandered around when it was closed. The Fox Theater had that same story...spooky.
At Playland, when I was a teen, they put in a super fast Merry-Go-Round with race horses. You'd pick one horse out of 4 with a color saddle and that was your horse. They'd go much faster than a real Merry-Go-Round, you had to hang on tight. The 4 horses in your row would move back and forth as they went around. If at the end your horse came in first out of the four, you won a free ride. I remember that ride was broken down more than it was working.
Then on 6/26/66 I had just given birth to my daughter at St. Mary's Hospital. They said there was a lot of smoke out the window, down at the beach. Finally they told us it was Sutro's, burning down. I stood at the window and could just see the top of the smoke, I had tears. It seemed like a day of new beginnings for me with a new little life to love, but a sad ending of an old lady that I loved too.
I will forever remember Sutros, that and the old Fox Theater were two places that should still be standing in San Francisco. But they are gone, only our memories keep them alive.
Thanks for this site, it took me down a nostalgia path.
Mary Lou Baratta
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