10 Breathtaking Facts About The Sutro Tower

One of the most breathtaking towers in the world can be found in one of the most fascinating cities in California on the west coast of the United States.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most fun and interesting facts about the Sutro Tower, an incredible landmark in San Francisco!

1. It’s located on a hill between 3 other hills in central San Francisco

The Sutro Tower is one of the most prominent landmarks in San Francisco as it’s located on top of a hill near Clarendon Heights, an area located about 5 kilometers (3 miles) to the southeast of the central business district.

The hill it was built on is situated between 3 other hills as well, Mount Sutro to the northwest and the iconic Twin Peaks to the east.

This elevated position reaches a height of about 254.2 meters (834 feet) above sea level which makes this fascinating structure visible from just about anywhere in the city.

Sutro Hill
Mount Sutro / Hourann Bosci / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0

2. It was indirectly named after a former mayor of San Francisco

The name of the tower and the nearby Mount Sutro (1830-1898) was derived from the family of a former mayor of San Francisco named Adolph Sutro. He was a German Jew who immigrated to the United States and became a successful businessman who earned a fortune from a silver mine in Virginia City, Nevada.

He was also a real estate investor and owned numerous properties in and around San Francisco, including the area that the tower was eventually built on.

He eventually ended up becoming the 24th mayor of San Francisco and served as such between 1895 and 1897.

Adolph Sutro
Adolph Sutro / Wiki Commons

3. The site was originally occupied by a family-owned mansion

The wealth of the family was used to build properties and luxurious mansions in the city, as well as several real estate ventures. Some of these included properties of Mount Sutro, Land’s End (now the area of Lincoln Park, and Mount Davidson.

Perhaps the most impressive complex built by Sutro was the Sutro Baths, a huge entertainment complex that featured 6 indoor swimming pools. This structure in the Sutro District burned down in 1966 and only ruins remain of it today.

The location of the tower was occupied by a huge mansion called “La Avanzada.” This residence was constructed in the 1930s but eventually made way to build the first tower on this location in the late 1940s.

Sutro Tower san francisco facts
The tower and SF in the background / Christopher Michel / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

4. The property was bought by ABC in 1948

The mansion eventually ended up being sold by Adolph G. Sutro, the grandson of the former mayor of the city. The property was bought by the American Broadcasting Company (ABC).

This company built the first transmitters on this elevated position in the city to host their KGO Television, a television station licensed to San Francisco. The original tower on this location had a height of 154 meters (508 feet).

A consortium of San Francisco television stations was eventually formed which all used the tower as a transmitter, even though they operated from their own studios. These stations included KTVU, KRON, KPIX, and several other local television broadcasters.

Sutro Tower tv transmitter
The antenna of the tower / Pi.1415926535 / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

5. The tower changed the lives of many residents in the early 1970s

By the mid-1960s, the city had expanded at such a pace that many locations couldn’t be served by this original tower, regardless of its elevated position. The main problem was the fact that San Francisco features multiple hills and the signals of the tower simply couldn’t reach some neighborhoods resulting in poor reception.

That’s why the plans to build a new and taller tower were conceived in this period. The Sutro Tower was eventually built between 1971 and 1973 for USD 4 million.

The first broadcasts from stations using the tower went on-air on July 4, 1973, a special day for many people of the city.

Golden Gate Bridge and Sutro Tower
The Golden Gate Bridge and the tower / Uncle Charlie / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

6. It was the tallest structure in San Francisco for over 4 decades

The tower reaches a height of 297.8 meters (977 feet) which is 68% higher than the original tower. The tower also stands 552 meters (1,811 feet) above sea level.

This instantly made it the tallest structure in the city, and because it was built in an elevated position, the most prominent one as well.

One of the most amazing facts about the Sutro Tower is that it also was the tallest structure in the city for over 4 decades. It kept this record until it was finally surpassed by the Salesforce Tower in 2017, a building that reaches a height of 326 meters (1,070 feet).

Sutro Tower height
The tower overlooking the city / Jack French / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

7. Not everybody was pleased with the tower initially

Even though the tower has become an icon for the residents of San Francisco and tourists alike, it wasn’t initially received too well by some people living in the city.

One of the city’s leading newspapers referred to the structure as a “monstrosity on the horizon” and even the “Sword of Damocles above the city.” Not quite flattering words, don’t you think?

Today, the tower is one of the many beloved landmarks in one of the most fascinating cities on the planet.

Sutro Tower above houses
The tower above the houses / Tony Webster / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

8. Serious measures were taken to make the tower earthquake-proof

San Francisco is situated in an area prone to earthquakes, so they couldn’t mess around with the stability of the structure. That’s why about 3,750 cubic meters (132,000 cubic feet) of concrete was used to build an extremely solid foundation of the tower.

The tower itself weighs 1,700 tonnes (3,700,000 lbs) and two-thirds of the weight is ballasted below the ground. The center of gravity is situated at about 5 meters (16 feet) below ground level as well.

Sutro Tower base at sunset
The base of the tower at sunset / Tony Webster / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

9. The tower is sometimes the only structure rising above the fog

One of the most fascinating facts about the Sutro Tower is that it’s by far the highest point in San Francisco, something that often causes an amazing spectacle.

Whenever a thick cloud of coastal fog stubbornly covers the peaks of the hills in San Francisco, it’s the only structure that sticks out its head above it. Whenever this happens it results in the breathtaking sight below.

Sutro Tower above the fog
The tower rising above the fog / Brocken Inaglory / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

10. It’s not accessible to the public but looks amazing at night

Unfortunately, the tower can’t be accessed by the public but only by authorized maintenance employees of the broadcasting stations.

Remarkably, there is an observation deck situated at a height of 228.8 meters (751 feet) which can be accessed by a small elevator located in the west leg of the tower.

This doesn’t mean that taking a closer look at the tower shouldn’t be on your bucket list when visiting the city of San Francisco, though, especially at night when the tower looks stunning!

Sutro Tower at night
The amazing tower at night / Dllu / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0