Alfred Kallman on CLIFF HOUSE TOUR

Only a single photo from my collection this week.

If you've seen past posts about the Kallman family you will probably recognize Alfred, patriarch of the family.

This is Alfred aboard a touring car in San Francisco, probably around 1919. He was on his way to see the Cliff House restaurant and Sutro Baths. The Cliff House still exists, the Sutro Baths not so much. And when I say the Cliff House still exists, it's not the Cliff House Alfred would have seen.

Click on image to see it larger.

The Cliff House has burned down several times. The photo below shows it at its most gorgeous, but it too burned down over 100 years ago.

I'll let good old Wikipedia fill-in some details about this San Francisco landmark.
The Cliff House is a restaurant perched on the headlands on the cliffs just north of Ocean Beach on the western side of San Francisco, California. It overlooks the site of the former Sutro Baths and a room-sized camera obscura and is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, operated by the National Park Service.

Cliff House has had five major incarnations since its beginnings in 1858. That year, Samuel Brannan, a prosperous ex-Mormon elder from Maine, bought for $1,500 the lumber salvaged from a ship that foundered on the basalt cliffs below. With this material he built the first Cliff House. The second Cliff house was built for Captain Junius G. Foster, but it was a long trek from the city and hosted mostly horseback riders, small game hunters or picnickers on day outings. With the opening of the Point Lobos toll road a year later, the Cliff House became successful with the Carriage trade for Sunday travel. The builders of the toll road constructed a two mile speedway beside it where well-to-do San Franciscans raced their horses along the way. On weekends, there was little room at the Cliff House hitching racks for tethering the horses for the thousands of rigs. Soon, omnibus railways and streetcar lines made it to near Lone Mountain where passengers transferred to stagecoach lines to the beach. The growth of Golden Gate Park attracted beach travelers in search of meals and a look at the Sea Lions sunning themselves on Seal Rocks, just off the cliffs to visit the area.

In 1877, the toll road, now Geary Boulevard, was purchased by the City for around $25,000. In 1883, after a few years of downturn, the Cliff House was bought by Adolph Sutro who had solved the problems of ventilating and draining the mines of the Comstock Lode and become a multimillionaire. After a few years of quiet management by J.M. Wilkens, the Cliff House was severely damaged by a dynamite explosion when the schooner, Parallel, ran aground. The blast was heard a hundred miles away and demolished the entire north wing of the tavern. The building was repaired, but was later completely destroyed on Christmas night 1894 due to a defective flue. Wilkens was unable to save the guest register, which included the signatures of three Presidents and dozens of illustrious world-famous visitors.

In 1896, Adolph Sutro built a new Cliff House, a seven story Victorian Chateau, called by some "the Gingerbread Palace", below his estate on the bluffs of Sutro Heights. This was the same year work began on the famous Sutro Baths, which included six of the largest indoor swimming pools north of the Restaurant that included a museum, skating rink and other pleasure grounds. Great throngs of San Franciscans arrived on steam trains, bicycles, carts and horse wagons on Sunday excursions.

The Cliff House and Sutro Baths survived the 1906 earthquake with little damage but burned to the ground on the evening of September 7, 1907. Dr. Emma Merritt, Sutro's daughter, commissioned a rebuilding of the restaurant in a neo-classical style that was completed within two years and is the basis of the structure seen today. In 1937, George and Leo Whitney purchased the Cliff House, complementing their Playland-at-the-Beach attraction nearby and extensively remodeling it into an American roadhouse. The building was acquired by the National Park Service in 1977 and became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Many of Whitney's additions were removed and the building was restored to its 1909 appearance. In 2003, an extensive further renovation added a new two-story wing overlooking the Sutro Bath ruins.

The site overlooks Seal Rocks and the former site of the Sutro Baths. More than thirty ships have been pounded to pieces on the southern shore of the Golden Gate below the Cliff House.

The area immediately around Cliff House is part of the setting of Jack London's novel The Scarlet Plague (1912). (SOURCE: Wikipedia)
To get a nice overall feeling about the Cliff House through the years click here to go to the official site and stay for the opening historical slideshow, including the Sutro Baths.

To see more images of these tour cars, including this very same No. 20, click here to enter the Cliff House project. And spend a bit more time clicking around the site to see other wonderful images.

There are so many interesting people in the car with Alfred; let's just be thankful he wasn't sitting next to this happy go lucky soul. Actually, I can remember touring Europe with a person with this same joie de vivre.

This is my submission to this weeks Sepia Saturday. Another photo from the George Kallman estate.

And for those who like old photos, but don't visit me during the week, I think you might enjoy the lovely lady I've been posting this week. An unknown woman from the San Francisco/Bay Area. I will resume posting more images of her tomorrow.


  1. Looks like an Alfred Hitchcock film set!

  2. Ah, the driver, the only one not out to have agood time with his pals probably. I loved your pictures of Gypsy too.

  3. Is this an early version of a stretch limo? It certainly holds a lot of people.
    Cliff House looks an ideal setting for spooks or monsters - very atmospheric.

  4. Love the scary photo of the cliff house. Looks like something right out of a horror movie. Yes, I've been on tours with that man. Not fun.
    Ladies of the grove

  5. Oh my how cool! I missed this on my trip there! Thanks for the journey!

  6. This was so much fun to read! I have long been a fan of the Cliff House.

  7. I like the photo of the touring car. I have seen postcards of Cliff House, but I never knew its history.

  8. Anonymous5/21/2011

    The information on Cliff House was fascinating and I did click over to see the slideshow. I must say I admired the Victorian Cliff House much better than the current one, which to my eye looks so very plain and concrete. :-) But then, I lived in an Olde Towne bungalow for five or six years, heh. Sure hope that Alfred enjoyed himself on his tour!

  9. Nice story and photo, I especially like the sailors in the back.

  10. oh my!!
    that Cliff House pic would be the perfect backdrop for my nurse!!!

  11. The previous Cliff Houses were so beautiful and the latest one is so plain. I wonder what caused so many of them to burn down?

  12. Regarding fires I imagine it was location, location, location. It wasn't near to the center of town, but way on the outskirts. Even with the Sutro Baths nearby, I imagine there was a real problem getting water to the structure. All it took was one careless person dropping a cigarette or pipe ashes and kaboom. All wood structure.

  13. That driver looks positively bilious. I'm wondering if this was the end of the trip and got cliff-sick.

  14. I imagine after awhile this look was frozen on his face. And how about the tour guide with the megaphone? Perhaps he and the driver are in cahoots and are planning on driving this happy lot right off the cliff.