Cliff House Fire

It was a simple download from the Internet from Wurlington Press – paper cut-out of the Cliff House in San Francisco in 1/750 scale and proceeded. The Cliff House was one of the greatest conglomerations of gingerbread ever seen in San Francisco. This is saying a lot. I labored cutting the little pieces out but felt there was some diorama in in all of this. Then, I remembered the great Cliff House fire of 1907 and had my diorama theme.

San Francisco’s Cliff House over-looking the Pacific Ocean at Land’s End has been a beloved institution since 1863. The original Cliff House was a simple clapboard structure with a restaurant built by Charles Butler on a rocky promontory. At first, only the most adventurous travelers braved the miles of sand dunes to reach this place on the western part of the San Francisco peninsula. A road was eventually constructed to attract wealthy customers who enjoyed racing their horse teams on the flat straight avenue along the beach below the Cliff House. The loser of the race would buy everyone drinks at the Cliff House.

Investor Adolph purchased the property in 1883 and built a mansion and park on the heights above. Sutro opened his estate to families and working-class visitors and arranged for construction of a railroad line to the Cliff House and the nearby Sutro Baths (he also owned) charging only a nickel fare.

Charlie Moran’s Magnificent Cliff House Model (See his site below)

The first Cliff House burned on Christmas Day in 1894, but in its place Sutro commissioned a spectacular seven-story gingerbread chateau that was completed in 1896. The bottom floor was a workshop for making souvenirs from shells. Inside the large windows of the second and third floors was a restaurant ballrooms and meeting rooms. To attract business, the restaurant charged no more than downtown establishments.

On the open veranda above the third floor, guests could sit at a table and sip a cocktail for 10 cents and watch the antics of the sea lions at nearby Seal Rock through rented binoculars. The upper floors housed a shell museum and art gallery. A camera obscura was in the northwest corner tower.

Sutro’s Cliff House hosted President Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill and many other celebrities. On the weekends, daredevil stuntmen and carnival games drew crowds to the nearby beach, the amusement park and the famous Sutro Baths and tropical greenhouse.

The Cliff House survived the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 but its fate was not long-lived. In 1907, a fire in the basement overtook the wooden structure and it burned to the ground. Two years later a new cliff house was built of concrete. (Thanks to Matt Bergstrom at Wurlington Press for the above information)

Watching the Cliff House Fire From Sutro Park (From a Postcard)

Photo of People Watching the Fire From The Beach 

The Cliff House At Night


Build Your Own Cliffhouse – CliffHouse

Build Other Paper Structures (From the great Wurlington Brothers Press site)

See Charlie Moran’s Incredible Cliff House Project 


One thought on “Cliff House Fire

  1. Very interesting history…Wouldn’t it have been grand to sit there and sip wine and watch the activities! I
    like your diorama of the historic gingerbread house… it makes you wish they could have saved it from burning..Barbara

Leave a Reply