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Twenty-year-old engineer Adolph Sutro moved from Prussia to the US and, a decade later, the year after the Silver Rush began, he formed the Sutro Tunnel Co. to promote his plans for de-watering and de-gassing the mine shafts of the Comstock Lode, the first major discovery of silver ore in the United States. It was under the eastern slope of Blue Mountain (Mt. Davidson) in the Virginia Range in western Utah Territory (modern Nevada); even though there was a scarcity of water on the surface, there was an excess of water underground; floods in the mines were sudden, and miners risked drowning in the underground reservoirs that were unexpectedly tapped. Intrusion of scalding-hot water into the mines was also a major problem, and the expense of water removal increased as depths increased. Sutro's plan was to run a drainage tunnel through Mt. Davidson from the lowest possible point under the Comstock Lode. According to Samuel Dickson, Sutro personally "set off blasts of dynamite, ... leading the way for tunnel diggers. He fought avalanches, mud slides and poisonous gases. He dug air shafts to relieve the danger; the shafts filled with water, one of them to the depth of nine hundred feet. He fought cave-ins and solid rock. Through the grueling months, day after day and month after month, he marched ahead of his men, stripped to the waist, laboring with them, sweating with them, facing death with them, and in the end, winning through with them to victory." When completed, the Sutro Tunnel was cut through nearly four miles of solid rock, drained up to 4 million gallons (15,000 m3) daily, rented by the mine owners at $10,000 a day, and provided ventilation as well as gravity-assisted ore removal.
Sutro, after becoming King of the Comstock, invested in real estate and other enterprises in San Francisco, where he was heralded as a populist for various astute acts of public munificence. In 1881 he bought 22 acres (89,000 m2) of undeveloped land south of Point Lobos and north of Ocean Beach, at the western edge of San Francisco. He spent more than a million dollars to recreate an Italianate garden filled with fountains, planted urns, Victorian flower beds, hedge mazes, parterres, forests, a glass plant conservatory, and other garden structures, and he imported over 200 concrete replicas of Greek and Roman statuary from Belgium. Below this state he built his seven-story Cliff House, "the Gingerbread Palace." He opened "Sutro Heights," his estate's gardens, to the public, opened an aquarium, and built an elaborate and beautiful glass-enclosed entertainment complex called Sutro Baths, which included saltwater and springwater pools, six of the largest indoor swimming pools in the world, a concert hall, a skating rink, and museums stocked with treasures that he had collected in his travels and from Woodward's Gardens, a combination zoo, amusement park, aquarium, and art gallery which had closed in 1891. Despite their remote location, the baths became very popular due to the low entry fee and the excursion railroad he built to reach them. He ran for mayor on the Populist Party ticket and became the city's first German-American Jewish mayor by inveighing against the power of the Southern Pacific Railroad. After a frustrating and largewly ineffectual term as mayor, he died in 1898, land rich but cash poor. His daughter moved to the Sutro Heights estate and lived there until her death in 1938, but she could not maintain the grounds, and the house seriously deteriorated, as people took away rose garden plantings and vandalized the statues. The Sutro family donated the estate to the City of San Francisco in 1938, and in 1939 the Works Progress Administration (WPA) demolished the residence. The remaining statuary was removed, with the exception of The Lions at the monumental entrance gate (copies of those in London’s Trafalgar Square) and a statue of Diana the Huntress (Artemis), a concrete copy of the Louvre's Diana, itself a Roman copy of a Greek statue. Today, maintained by a neighborhood group, Friends of the GGNRA (many of whom live on the surrounding streets) it is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. In addition to Sutro Heights, many of his other gifts to the city still exist, including Mount Sutro and Sutro Tower.
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