Cliff House Project
A Program of Western Neighborhoods Project

Chambers ] CC Butler Purchase ] Samuel Tetlow ] 1863 ] Mark Twain ] Wreck of the Ann Parry ] James Cook ] Wreck of the Elizabeth Owens ] Jack Lee ] Rosa Celeste ] 1868 ] Brignardello Wreck ] George Francis Train ] Ralph Waldo Emerson ] Josephine Wilcutt Wreck ] King Kalakaua ] General Sherman ] King Philip Wreck ] Grant ] Ben Butler ] Hayes ] Sutro Visits Lands End ] Sutro Purchase ] Ocean & Park RR ] Foster Leaves ] Adelina Patti ] Bridge Collapse ] OB Pavilion ] Sutro Heights Opens ] Baldwin Tightrope ] Boyton ] Atlantic Wreck ] Baldwin ] Parallel Wreck ] Aquarium ] Ferries and Cliff House RR ] Davison Bros ] Capt Jack Williams ] John Williams ] balloon ] Bullet hits Cliff House ] Harrison ] Boxers ] Millie Lavelle ] Sutro Baths Opening ] Andrew Carnegie ] Storm 1892 ] Leland Stanford ] Balloon Crash ] Sutro fights with Southern Pacific ] Burglary 1894 ] Sutro Elected Mayor ] Xmas fire ] [ 1895 ] Caroline Miskell ] 1896 ] Storm 1896 ] Sutro Railroad ] Vanderbilt ] Olcott ] Airship ] Mayor Phelan ] William Jennings Bryan ] High Dive ] Sutro Illness ] John Harris ] Sutro Death ] Political Banners 1896 or 1898 ] Post Office Branch ] Rockefeller ] Train wreck ] Dive Cancelled ] Wireless ] CSAA ] Storm 1900 ] Storm 1901 ] Shriners Visit 1901 ] McKinley ] Henri Turot ] Moonlight Run ] Fritzi Scheff ] Reporter Wreck ] Shriners Visit 1902 ] Buffalo Bill ] Political Banners 1902 ] Pacific Cable ] Roosevelt ] Union Strike ] Coast to Coast ] Debt ] Storm 1904 ] Storm 1904 Sept ] Storm 1905 ] Knights of Columbus ] Reopens ] Cliff Line ] Radio ] Storm 1905 Dec ] Storm 1906 Jan ] Earthquake ] Minor Fire ] Storm 1906 ] Remodel ] Fire ] Atlantic Fleet ] 1908 ] 1909 ] Fannie Brice ] Taft ] Telegraph Tower ] Landslide 1916 ] War Takeover Threat ] Rudolph Valentino ] Sarah Bernhardt ] Closes 1918 ] Reopens 1920 ] Remodel 1922 ] DPW Roadwork ] Shriners 1922 ] Prohibition Bust 1923 ] Prohibition Bust, 1925 ] Landslide ] Faux Rock ] Coffee Shop Opens ] Closes 1925 ] Storm 1926 ] Ohioan Wreck ] Charles Sutro Death ] Whitney Purchase ] 1949 Remodel ] Sutro Baths Sold ] Skytram ] Sold 1964 ] Baths Fire ] Blue Cliff House ] 2003 Remodel ] Closed 2021 ]



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


This structure on the cliff's edge is sometimes identified as the remains of the Cliff House foundation.  While that hasn't been ruled
out, it seems more reasonable that it was the support beams for a viewing platform build around 1910.  More info here.


"View north to construction, with framing mostly complete.  Seal Rock at left."
Courtesy of Western Neighborhoods Project (link), original source Marilyn Blaisdell Collection, Isaiah West Taber



Cliff House nearing completion (WNPCHP)

The Cliff House was remodeled just prior to the 1907 fire, so how do we know this is a photo of the newly constructed Cliff House?

John Hall (2/26/2018):   The stables to the north haven’t been built yet. If this was the remodel the south end of the stables would be in the picture.

John Martini (2/26/2018):   sometime after 1900 at least one of the arcade arches at the south end was glassed in (link), and stack extensions added to the chimneys west of the tower.  I always look for those tall chimneys when organizing historic photos of Ocean Beach and the CH. Visible for miles, they’re a handy reference for categorizing early vs later photos of the Cliff House.

Note stickers on windows, construction sign (lower right, enlarged here)



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


...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 San Francisco Examiner - Jan 25 1895


The San Francisco Call - Jan 27 1895, p7


San Francisco Chronicle - Jan 27 1895


The San Francisco Examiner - Jan 27 1895, p16


San Francisco Chronicle - 13 Apr 1895
"contractors are Campbell & Pettus"


The San Francisco call - May 13, 1895


The San Francisco Call - Jun 3 1895


San Francisco Call - 17 June 1895


SF Call - 25 June 1895


Cliff House, July 1895 "The Wasp" Magazine
Illustration showing Cliff House under construction


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


The San Francisco Call - Nov 25 1895


San Francisco Chronicle - Dec 20, 1895


San Francisco Chronicle - 29 Feb 1896


Cliff House Lighting
The San Francisco Call - 24 May 1896