The original Cliff House in San Francisco was built on the bluffs above Ocean Beach in 1863. It was extremely difficult to reach and only the rich and famous could afford to pay the $1 fare to use the toll road. By the end of the 1870s it was losing money so gambling and liquor were introduced, much to the detriment of the establishment’s reputation.
In 1883 San Francisco Mayor Adolph Sutro bought the beleaguered Cliff House and set about refurbishing both the building and its reputation. He also commissioned a railroad to improve accessibility for everyday people. Unfortunately, the entire place burned to the ground on Christmas day 1894. Sutro replaced it with a $75,000 replica of a French Chateau that soon came to be known as the Gingerbread House.
The new Cliff House that opened in February 1896 featured an observation tower 200 feet above the Pacific, various restaurants, an art gallery, a gem exhibit, private dining rooms, several bars, and (lucky for us) a photo gallery. The establishment regained its family-friendly reputation and soon other attractions were being built nearby, including the amusement ride called Chutes at the Beach. Eventually more rides and attractions would be added to create the popular Playland at the Beach amusement park several decades later.
At the turn of the 20th Century, the good citizens of Healdsburg, California made periodic visits to San Francisco. As these tintypes attest, the Cliff House was one of the sights they took in.
Mashable.com – “c.1900 The house on the cliff” by Chris Wild
thevintagenews.com – “The long & peculiar history of the Cliff House in San Francisco…” December 26, 2016 by Ian Harvey