Cliff House Project

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Construction
1895



Glass negative showing foundation
Property of DeYoung Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco
(click here for digitally restored version)

 


Photo of foundation taken in 2005 during reconstruction

 

 


 



Cliff House Nearing Completion
Note stickers on windows, construction sign (lower right, enlarged below)

 

 

Architects Emil Lemme & Charles J. Colley

Emil S Lemme (1863 – 1921), partner of Colley in the construction of both the Sutro Bath and the Cliff House.

More info

Charles J. Colley (1850 – 1928)

 

More info

In 1895 (?) Sutro commissioned the architectural team of Charles J Colley and Emil S Lemme to design the new Cliff House; he had used them before, most notably on the Sutro Baths.

In early August 1891, Sutro had advertised in the San Francisco Chronicle inviting designs for his proposed bathing establishment. He offered a “premium” of $500 to the winning design and set a deadline for the end of the month.

In a letter to his mentor Professor Ricker, Lemme described how they won:

“In the Sutro competition – being an open one – we had to compete against 15 other Architects, having but a month’s time. We only submitted two sheets, one of which was reproduced in the paper I sent, the other being the ground plans. The drawings were only finished in black ink. I state this to compare this with the drawings submitted by the others that I have seen in Sutro’s office. They were elaborately colored with exterior and interior perspectives. One architect even sent his plans to Boston to have them colored there and photoengraved…..Mr Sutro told us that our plans came nearest to his requirements and showed the most thought and study. He said he cared nothing for fine pictures.”

Sutro was likely an astute judge of a good design, being a successful self-educated engineer and inventor. His wealth came from the design and construction of the tunnels to drain the Comstock silver mines – a feat that many considered to be impossible. He was not afraid to go against the odds.

Lemme went on to complete 150 or so working drawings. Colley acted as the project superintendent and was the main point of contact with Sutro.

Prior to the Sutro Baths, the team of Colley and Lemme had won the competition for the Woodland City Hall & Fire station in Yolo County, California in 1890. Sutro was by far their most important client. Their partnership was relatively brief and appears to have been dissolved by 1895.

Both Colley and Lemme came from the Midwest: Wisconsin and Iowa respectively: but had contrasting backgrounds. Colley had worked his way up through the trades. Lemme was a university-trained architect who had also studied structural engineering; a rare breed in those days.

Researcher by: Desmond Smith desmo445@hotmail.com

 

...By July 1895 construction was rapidly progressing. Immense loads of earth had been removed from the site and some twenty or more massive iron rods had been secured in the rock face with cement as supports for the structure's foundation. According to the San Francisco Call of July 10, 1895, the main building would be five stories high surmounted with spires and a tower twenty-seven feet square which was to serve as an observatory. Tourists could rise the eight floors from the basement to the top, some 200 feet above the ocean, by an elevator. The main floor, level with the road, would contain a large dining room, parlor, bar, and numerous private dining rooms, with necessary kitchens. The second floor would have about twenty private lunch rooms, as well as a large art gallery to exhibit many of the gems from Sutro's private collection. The third floor would provide a very complete photograph gallery, reception rooms, and parlors, with panoramic views of the shoreline from large circular windows. On the first floor below the road level, Sutro planned to reinstate a popular price concession area where tourists could lunch, buy shells from the curio man, and watch the seals, as was the custom in the old Cliff House. And in the basement the building's laundry, boilers, machinery, and rooms for employees would be installed. The furnishings for the rooms were going to be "elaborate and neat," and would provide the visitors with many settees and easy chairs in which to relax and enjoy the resort surroundings.

Quotes from: "S.F. Morning Call," Dec. 27, 1894, p. 10 and July 10, 1895, p. 7; Cliff House, Bids, Offers, Contracts, 1894-96, Sutro Collection, Box 38, Misc. Payrolls and Bids, 1890-1907, Bancroft Library, Univ. of California, Berkeley, Cal.; "S.F. Morning Call," Dec. 31, 1894; "'Burning of the Cliff House' sold like Hot Cakes." "The Pony Express 21, No. 9, Feb. 1855, p. 2.)


 


The Morning Call, 27 Jan 1895 - pg 7
Contributed by Ron Filion


 


San Francisco Chronicle, January 27 1895
Contributed by Ron Filion

 

 


San Francisco Examiner, Sunday Morning January 27 1895,  pg 16
Contributed by Ron Filion


 


The San Francisco call - May 13, 1895

 


San Francisco Call - 17 June 1895

 


SF Call - 25 June 1895

 


The San Francisco Call, Wednesday, 10 July 1895,  pg 7

 


San Francisco Chronicle - Dec 20, 1895

 


Cliff House Lighting
The San Francisco Call - 24 May 1896

 

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