Project Awesome: Knitting at the Sutro Baths

Project Spectrum is the creation of Lauren Weinhold of the Lolly Knitting Around blog. Her goal is to prod artists to explore the impact that color has on their lives and, in particular, their artsing and crafting, using a series of themes throughout the year. A good exercise for me, since, left to my own devices, the brightest color I tend to wear is gray.

It’s a brilliant idea. This year’s round is organized around the traditional colors associated with the four cardinal directions. I missed North, East, and South, but, when I saw West, I realized I could jump right in:
hand towel bench

WEST (September/October)
Color: Blue
Material: Glass
Season: Autumn
Element: Water

On the right is one of my WIPs, my second Moss Grid-inspired Hand Towel in Euroflax. The color, appropriately, is Neptune, a watery blue, which sent me on an ocean kick. Especially when I realized that the stitch pattern I chose, chevron seed stitch, is evocative of stylized waves. Water again! Further fitting into the theme, we’re just into autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, and I live on the western edge of the United States, facing the Pacific (usually inside a cloud bank).

I decided to take the theme a step further and go knit my Ocean-Inspired Chevron Seed Stitch Hand Towel at the beach.
hand towel horizon
It was, um, pretty nice, yeah.

Sutro Baths

The spot I chose for my knitting field trip is one of my favorite beachy spots in SF. Don’t let the gorgeous, 72-degrees-and-not-even-windy day I photographed deceive you: usually, Ocean Beach is not a place for lingering, let alone dipping a single toe into the frigid deep. It is windy, cloudy, and wild, and could probably house the ice floes that are melting in the Arctic.

So the beach spots I like best have nothing to do with swimming and everything to do with views:

Sutro Baths

The Sutro Baths are about the closest thing to a Roman ruin we have around here. Not that they’re that old: they were completed in 1898, financed by former mayor Sutro, who was, in the best tradition of San Franciscans, kind of a nut, at the then-staggering cost of $1 million.

At the time, the view from my knitting perch would have looked more like this:

SFPL Historical Photographs Collection

SFPL Historical Photographs Collection

San Franciscans rode their choice of three railway lines to get to the Baths, where they could bathe in seven seawater pools heated to various temperatures, or instead see a mummy if they were into it. The interior was like something out of Metropolis:

SFPL Historical Photographs

SFPL Historical Photographs Collection

Like, how “modern” is that? Gorgeous. Anyhow, the Sutros never could make the Baths a financial success; they housed an ice skating rink in the 1930s, were part of Playland in the 1950s, and caught fire during their demolition in the late 1960s, leaving the flooded, burnt-out shell I saw yesterday.

It’s silly, but, to my mind, the old Sutro Baths have a haunted quality, even though the “ruins” aren’t even that old and no one died there. They make me think of thousands of now-dead San Franciscans at play, splashing and enjoying the Baths. If a ghost did want to haunt someplace at Ocean Beach, the Baths would be a good choice.


  1. Louise Ann Carlson - says

    Just a little FYI on Sutro Baths and Land’s End. Sutro Baths ruins and the cliffs surrounding it in the Land’s End area have been the sight for numerous people being swept off the rocks and cliffs into the ocean. Some bodies have been recovered, others not. The cave which was part of the pump station is reported to be supposedly haunted. There have also been numerous murders in the surrounding Land’s End area, one of which was Kurt McFall back in the 1970’s-80’s which has not been successfully solved. There are many accounts which you can look up at the S.F. Library, Chronicle and on line for more info. Great article, by the way.