Sutro Baths and Playland at the Beach on tap

For historian John Freeman, the smell of Sutro Baths is what made a big impression.

“Anyone who was ever there remembers it, since it came from years of mold, salt, rancid popcorn and who knows what else,” says Freeman, who will tell stories about the historic San Francisco site and the nearby Playland at the Beach at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in a program presented by the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society.

Retired ranger-historian John Martini also will speak at the event, at the Jewish Community Center, 3200 California St., San Francisco. Suggested donation is $5.

Freeman, a Richmond district resident, says “Our amusement parks were so different from Disneyland. When we were kids, we’d hop on a streetcar and go to the end of the line, unsupervised.”

The baths were “a big attraction in the 1890s, then, after some hard times, were revitalized in 1934 when they put in an ice rink,” he says. “We all loved the torture devices, which were way down below — a natural history museum in many ways.”

Martini calls the baths “the biggest glass palace west of the Mississippi — the largest indoor baths built since Roman times. Three-and-a-half acres under glass that stood for 70 years till it burned down in ’66.”

On Saturday at 2 p.m., in a related program, National Park Service docent Tom Bratton, whose father was general manager of the baths, will lead a tour of the ruins. Meet on Point Lobos Avenue in front of the site, just west of the Cliff House.

For more information about either program, visit www.sfhistory.org.

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