Sunday, February 13, 2011
When I was 6 my parents moved my brother and I to the east coast. Till then we had lived in Sacramento where our extended family resided. We went from having aunts and uncles babysitting us, Grandma and Grandpa feeding us, and a gaggle of cousins entertaining us, to just us. The move was a big adjustment for everyone involved, but my west coast family took it very hard. They insisted my brother and I come visit every summer so the family could reconnect. It was on one of these visits I discovered a place that for the rest of my life has evoked both sentiments of my childhood as well as a reminder of our rich historical past.
In San Francisco just Southwest of Golden Gate Park, sits the ruins of Sutro Baths, a once expansive bathhouse. Built in 1896, it featured seven pools, a museum, and amphitheatre, all housed under an iron and glass roof. The Sutro Baths had a turbulent existence until it closed in 1966. In that same year a mysterious fire engulfed the baths, leaving only fragments of the glorious buildings. Today Sutro Bath Ruins is owned by the National Park Service, and is a special escape within the city with beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean.
I was thirteen the first time I visited the Sutro Baths. I remember stepping out of the car into the dirt parking lot and getting my first glimpse of the ocean crashing against the ruins. Below the lot was a deep decent down to the beach, which was littered with the decay of what looked to be a once magnificent structure. Exposed pipes cantilevered over the still water trapped within the structures. Rusty iron crumpled from fire and waves, jutted haphazardly from the wreckage, creating a frolicsome playground ready to be explored! As I was galloping down the steep cliff I stopped to gather my footings, I became aware of beyond the ruins. I took in the immenseness of the ocean; I listened to the rhythm of the waves crash on the rocks, which seemed to contradict the stillness of the space. I felt as if I were standing on the very edge of the world, between civilization and make believe.
Once down the bluff I began scuttling along the brittle pylons, jumping from one wall to the next, avoiding the cold, algae covered water below. I soon found a wall that was sturdy enough to negotiate across to the other side, where hidden in the cliffs, I caught sight of a cave. I clumsily walked across, stopping midway to look out towards the ocean and listened to the sea lions on Seal Rock gently bellowing towards their young ones, then continued on till I found solid ground. As I began to enter the cave I could start to feel the vibrations of the waves pummeling the outer edges of the cliff. The acoustics within were wondrous and eerie, amplified and rhythmically soothing. As I continued through I imagined the silhouettes of the rocks outside being chiseled away, perpetually transforming their shape. As I exited the cave I came upon monumental boulders precariously strewed along the ridge. The waters edge was not too far and I began navigated the wet rocks. Though the decent was arduous at times, I managed to scramble out to the endmost boulder, where I was surrounded by water with no one else in sight. And I felt engaged.
I have visited the Sutro Baths on many occasions, and each time I am filled with a remembrance of who I was, and who I wanted to become. It is a landscape that evolves with the natural elements, has historical ties to the past and can evoke emotional ties to my past; It is places like this I want to protect, as well as create for future generations. Today we are seeing more moves to reclaim notable landmarks and transforming them into a space that gives a nod towards the past, yet is designed for a sustainable future.