Adolph Sutro’s Gingerbread Palace


The Cliff House in a storm by Tsunekichi Imai (c. 1900).

The Cliff House Project has a wealth of information and ephemera about the late Victorian incarnation of the Cliff House restaurant in San Francisco. There were several Cliff Houses but the one built by Adolph Sutro in 1896 was the most spectacular, partly for the lack of other buildings around it but mostly for its typically Victorian take on a Gothic style which gave it the nickname “the Gingerbread Palace.”


I’d never seen this building before until comics writer Tom Veitch sent me a picture postcard of it in the early Nineties. Given its age I’d always assumed it must have been destroyed in the 1906 earthquake but it turns out that the building survived that disaster only to perish in a fire the year after. The Cliff House site has many wonderful photographs, nearly all of which convey the impression that the building was about to slide into the sea at any moment—or maybe set sail if the tide was up. There’s also a short piece of film from 1903 showing a slow pan around a throng of beach revellers which eventually comes to light on the house. Long-vanished buildings often possess an air of unreality in photographs; this one seems more unreal than most due to its unlikely appearance.

Update: Nephilim2038 reminds us that Blue Öyster Cult used Imai’s photograph of the Cliff House on the cover of their Imaginos album in 1988. This seems to have eluded my attention despite my having a CD-single from that album (although in truth I bought it for Don’t Fear The Reaper which was included as a bonus track).


Previously on { feuilleton }
Passages 2
Hungarian water towers
Karel Plicka’s views of Prague
Atget’s Paris

3 thoughts on “Adolph Sutro’s Gingerbread Palace”

  1. Reminds me of one of the old Roger Corman Poe adaptations with a creepy old house on a clifftop. Also Kubrick’s The Shining (though that wasn’t on a clifftop).
    Nostalgia for long gone buildings etc can also come from watching old movies and TV series showing things that are no longer there. Monty Python, Randall & Hopkirk deceased. Any old 60’s etc TV shows that were sometimes filmed on location.


  2. By an odd coincidence the postcard Tom sent me prior to that one was one from the Timberline Lodge in Colorado, the exterior of which was used for the Overlook Hotel in The Shining.

  3. Blue Oyster Cult fans will fondly recognize the Cliff House as from the “Imaginos” album cover.

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