Cliff House Project
A Program of Western Neighborhoods Project


Camera Obscura in Cliff House?

The Camera Obscura adjacent to the present day Cliff House may have had a predecessor.  The blueprints clearly call out a "Camera Obscura Room" in the NW tower...

Roof Page, NW corner


2nd Attic Page, NW corner


Further evidence comes from an advertising brochure by Taber Photography, published in San Francisco in 1895, entitled "Sutro Baths, Cliff House, Sutro Heights"...

"The attic is used chiefly as a means of approach to the rooms in the turrets, three of them fitted up as private dining rooms, and the fourth containing the largest camera obscura west of Chicago."  (full text)


Although the blueprints show the Camera Obscura in the NW tower, photographic evidence suggests it may have resided in the SW tower instead...

This ladder appears in many photographs....a permanent fixture for cleaning and/or adjusting the camera aperture?


Other photographs showing the SW tower...




Note: I do not see the structure in the last two photos, possibly it was added or removed at some point?

The above view appears to show not only the ladder, but also a rope lassoed over the top.  Also note again the very distinct difference between the NW and SW towers.


So there you have it.  The evidence is before you.  Thoughts?


Present day Camera Obscura for reference


Update 16 Jan 2014:  John Martini located the below receipt in the San Francisco Public Library History Center (link)...

"Placing Camera Obscura in the Gate House by the Lumber Yard & Same Lens to Mr Harrison"
Mr. Harrison was Sutro’s foreman for much of the construction of Sutro Baths. Likely the “Gate House by the Lumber Yard” referred to the construction site at the Baths.  - John Martini


Evidence suggesting there was not a Camera Obscura in the Cliff House
San Francisco Call - 24 Aug 1898


San Francisco Call - 18 July 1898