Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - restaurants

Designers: [unspecified]

Dates: constructed 1863, demolished 1894

5 stories

1090 Point Lobos Avenue
Sea Cliff, San Francisco, CA 94121

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This was the first incarnation of the famous Cliff House restaurant, that stood on this site south of Point Lobos, about seven miles west of Downtown San Francisco, CA, from 1863 until 1894.

Building History

Two enterprising San Franciscans, C.C. Butler and State Senator John P. Buckley were partners in a syndicate that financed a toll road that led west from San Francisco to Point Lobos, overlooking the Pacific. The area was named for the lobos marinos, in English, sea lions, that congregated on the rocks near Point Lobos. The point's remarkable vistas and the presence of the sea lions encouraged Butler and Buckley to build the first Cliff House in 1863, at the end of their toll road. They found another man, Captain Junius Foster, to operate and manage a restaurant, the Cliff House #1 that opened on 10/15/1863.

The restaurant cost a significant toll to reach, and prices at the restaurant were not low, but the Cliff House #1 became a landmark for San Franciscans eager for an excursion from the city. In 1868, Foster had prospered sufficiently to encourage the addition of two wings on either side of the original building, and an extensive baclony facing the water. (This addition to the Cliff House #1 has been viewed by some as a new building, the Cliff House #2; its addition does not seem extensive enough to call it wholly new structure, however.) As the 1860s went on, and into the 1870s, a wealthy but somewhat shady clientele of gamblers, political fixers and politicians began to socialize at the Cliff House. Sutro fired long-time manager Foster and installed his own, family-friendly staff.

In 1881, German-immigrant Adolph Sutro (1830-1898), a wealthy businessman and politician in San Francisco, CA, purchased the restaurant, and, because of its isolated location on the city's western periphery, constructed a narrow-gauge railway to bring visitors to his landmark restaurant; the railway was completed in 1888. Sutro owned a great deal of land nearby to the Cliff House; just to the north, he erected the Sutro Baths, an immense indoor complex of heated, salt-water pools, in 1896. Sutro tried to cleanse the Cliff House of its shady element, making it a family friendly establishment. Sutro constructed a large curving garage that could shelter 1200 teams of horses across the road from the Cliff House by 1886.

In 1887, a disabled cargo ship, the schooner Parallel, foundered on the rocks just to the north of the Cliff House #1. The Parallel carried a payload of 45 tons of explosive powder, that exploded, once its crew had abandoned ship. This explosion destroyed the northern wing built in 1868.

A fire broke out in the restaurant on 12/25/1894 destroying the tourist landmark, and clearing the way for the erection of second, large restaurant to be built at Point Lobos.


Two wings were added on either side of the building's original portion in 1868. An extended balcony was also added on the restaurant's west facade.


The Cliff House #1 was damaged when a schooner, the Parallel, ran aground on basaltic coastal rocks and exploded on 01/16/1887. The burned completely on 12/25/1894.

PCAD id: 5102