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1st Cliff House, 1868
1st Cliff House, 1868
In 1868, a new-and-improved Cliff House in the foggy, dune-covered landscape at Ocean Beach, opens its doors to the sporty crowd. Adolph Sutro, the new owner in 1881, vows to create a "family resort."

"A taste for the beautiful in nature…must be engendered among the masses."

-- Adolph Sutro, Engineer, Philanthropist, Mayor of San Francisco

Entrance to Sutro Heights
Entrance to Sutro Heights

On the heights above the Cliff House, Sutro soon opens his home and gardens to the public as a pleasure park—no admission—and then provides them a trolley line with a five-cent fare.

Sutro railroad car
Sutro railroad car
Chinese women at Sutro Heights
Chinese women at Sutro Heights

When the Cliff House burns down in 1894, Sutro “paints the lily” with an 1896 replacement that is a Victorian vision floating above the Pacific. People seem to love it or hate it: "a wedding cake," "a monstrosity," "a gingerbread palace," "an abomination." But, as they did before, they come—from Presidents William H. Harrison and Theodore Roosevelt to the trolley conductor on holiday.

Victorian Cliff House
Victorian Cliff House
The "Gingerbread Palace" remains firm on its rocky throne during the 1906 earthquake and fire but burns to the ground the next year.

A new Cliff House takes its place in 1909, and the fun starts all over again.

The restored Cliff House is still perched above the Pacific.

Cliff House on fire
Cliff House on fire
Cliff House at night
Cliff House at night
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