The Second Cliff House

1896 Cliff House

Five stories, four turrets, numerous spires and dollops of gingerbread later, Adolph Sutro had a Cliff House to his taste.

The architects were Emile Lemme and C.J. Colley, micromanaged by Sutro. Opening in February, 1896, the new incarnation featured restaurants, art galleries, parlors and lunch rooms, settes and verandas. It catered to presidents, authors, artists and war heros.

Cliff House 1902

Sutro died in 1898. His fantastic castle met the fate of its predecessor, going up in flames in 1907. There were those who weren't sorry to see it go. A letter writer to The Argonaut let loose:

"Of the thousands who, on last Sunday morning, opened their paper and read 'Famous Cliff House Is Totally Destroyed by Fire,' were there, do you think, a score who did not ejaculate 'Thank Heaven!'? [...] It's tawdry architecture, its ungainly proportions, its dirty corridors and opaque windows, its wretched cuisine, its musical instruments of torture, its approaches lined with either cheap or deserted booths---all have made hideous a spot which Nature meant to be beautiful." 1

Sutro's daughter, Emma Merritt, commissioned the architecture firm of the Reid Brothers to design the next Cliff House. Ironically, it was the Reid Brothers' Hotel del Coronado in San Diego that Sutro directed his architects to use as a model for his overwrought Victorian palace. Now those same architects built on the site a very understated structure.

Neo-classical, born in the "Search for Order" era, the 1909 Cliff House made the setting and the views paramount.

The Cliff House Story, Part One

The Cliff House Story, Part Three

1909 Cliff House

Images: 1) Cliff House, 1896. Courtesy of SW LaBounty; 2) Cliff House Stereoview by Underwood & Underwood Publishers, 1902. (WNP Collection); 3) Reid Brothers' Cliff House, 1909. Courtesy of San Francisco Architectural Heritage

1. The Argonaut, September 14, 1907, Vol. LXI, No. 1590.

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Page updated 10 December 2003.