Adolph Sutro: Self-Trained Engineer, Book Collector, Land Investor, Merchant & Mayor

Adolph Sutro

Values Codes  I-H-E-L-P

Adolph Sutro was born in 1830 in the German city of Aachen.



Adolph Sutro came to California in 1850, at the age of 20.

He went into the clothing business in Stockton with Bernhard Frankenheimer, a cousin.

Soon Adolph Sutro returned to San Francisco where he opened a tobacco store and a second store that sold imported variety goods.

The Comstock Lode &

The Sutro Tunnel

In 1859, Adolph Sutro developed a new refining process for silver ore just as the huge mineral finds were being made in Nevada.

The heat and the flooding of the Comstock Lode mines in Virginia City, Nevada were major problems.

Adolph Sutro devised a plan to dig a long, four-mile tunnel that would drain both the mines and cool them.

Financing this tunnel was difficult, but with the help of private investors he succeeded in completing the project in 1879, after years of effort.

The Sutro Tunnel of Virginia City was a remarkable engineering feat.

Sutro received a fee for every ton of material removed from all the mines.

Needless to say, he became a very rich man.

In addition, he owned the lands where the tunnel emptied the waters from the mines.

Sutro developed this area into a large farming area and sold fresh food produce to the population of Virginia City.

(That is what is called, “a yiddisha kufp.”)



Sutro Heights

Disposing of his tunnel stock before the mines started to slow down, Adolph Sutro moved back to San Francisco and developed Sutro Heights in the empty, Western end of the city.

In 1892, he built the Sutro Baths with six large indoor swimming pools and the vast Sutro Gardens – all for the enjoyment of the citizens of San Francisco.

In the mid-1890s he built a huge “new” Cliff House, which burned down in 1907.


Sutro gathered a collection of over a quarter-million books and manuscripts, much now housed in the Sutro Library, a branch of the California State Library System. A large portion was lost in a fire.

The Cliff House Burns in 1907

The Cliff House Burns in 1907, Vintage Postcard

He gave twenty-six acres of land to the University of Cali­fornia for a Medical School and hospital.

At one time Adolph Sutro owned one-twelfth of all land in San Francisco.

At the end of 1894, Adolph Sutro ran for Mayor of San Francisco, and was readily elected.

He took office at the beginning of 1895 and served for two years, stepping down before the end of his term because he could not stand “Politics.”

Sutro Baths, San Francisco

Sutro Baths, San Francisco, Vintage Postcard


Mrs Sutro

Leah Harris Sutro


In 1855 Adolph Sutro married Leah Harris, and seven children were born to them.


Adolph Sutro died August 8, 1898.





More information can be found in the following issue of Western States Jewish History:

  •  Sutro, Adolph, Pioneer Jews of San Francisco, Part Two, M-Z, Norton Stern, 41/2

Photo Gallery [New photos always welcome]

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Palm Avenue, Sutro Heights, 1890s, Adolph Sutros gift to San Francisco. Postcard

Palm Avenue, Sutro Heights, 1890s, Adolph Sutros gift to San Francisco.
Vintage Postcard

Ocean Blvd. Near the Cliff House, Sutro Heights, 1890's Postcard

Ocean Blvd. Near the Cliff House, Sutro Heights, 1890’s
Vintage Postcard