Sutro Tower

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Sutro Tower
Sutro Tower from Grandview.jpg
Sutro Tower viewed from Grandview Park in San Francisco
Location within San Francisco
Location within San Francisco
General information
Status Complete
Type Radio mast
Location San Francisco, California
Address 1 La Avanzada Street
Clarendon Heights
Coordinates 37°45′19″N 122°27′10″W / 37.75523°N 122.45284°W / 37.75523; -122.45284Coordinates: 37°45′19″N 122°27′10″W / 37.75523°N 122.45284°W / 37.75523; -122.45284
Elevation 254.2 m (834 ft)
Completed July 4, 1973 (July 4, 1973)
Owner Sutro Tower, Inc.
Antenna spire 297.8 m (977 ft)[1]
Observatory on Level 6, 228.8 m (751 ft) above base
Other dimensions
  • base triangle legs spaced 45.7 m (150 ft) on a side
  • waist triangle legs spaced 18.3 m (60 ft) on a side
  • antenna triangle spaced 30.5 m (100 ft) on a side
Technical details
Structural system Truss tower
Design and construction
Architect Furman L. Anderson, Jr.[2]
Architecture firm
  • Kline Iron & Steel
  • Albert C. Martin and Associates
Renovating team
Engineer Simpson Gumpertz & Heger

Sutro Tower is a 977 ft (298 m) three-pronged TV and radio antenna tower in San Francisco, California. Rising from a hill between Twin Peaks and Mount Sutro near Clarendon Heights, it is a prominent feature of the city skyline and a landmark for city residents and visitors. The tower was the tallest structure in San Francisco from the time of its completion until 2017, when it was surpassed by the Salesforce Tower.

Named after the family of Adolph Sutro, a businessman and former mayor of San Francisco whose grandson, Adolph Gilbert Sutro, built a mansion, La Avanzada, on their property in the highest peaks of San Francisco. In 1948, the mansion and property was sold to the American Broadcasting Company, where it became the original home of their San Francisco operation as KGO Television. The tower stands 297.8 m (977 ft) above ground and 552 m (1,811 ft) above sea level. It is the second tallest structure in the city by ground-to-tip height, though its mountain location has it overlook the city's downtown skyscrapers.


Sutro Tower in clouds, shot from base

Before the construction of Sutro Tower in 1973, television reception in San Francisco was spotty because the many hills of the city blocked the line-of-sight television signal. The great height of the new tower helped to resolve that problem. Transmitters had been scattered throughout the Bay Area, including at San Bruno Mountain, Mt. Allison, Monument Peak, and Mt. Diablo. By having all the main Bay Area television station transmitters in one location, reception was improved by allowing a receiving antenna pointed in a single direction to receive all those stations rather than a subset.

Local residents opposed the tower even before it was completed, including criticism of the aesthetic effect the tower would have on the rest of San Francisco. San Francisco writer Herb Caen once wrote, "I keep waiting for it to stalk down the hill and attack the Golden Gate Bridge."[6] Acknowledging both displeasure and affection for its undeniable prominence on the city's skyline, it is sometimes referred to light-heartedly as the Sutro Monster[7] or Space Claw.[8][9]

When first built, the long legs of the tower were illuminated at night with long tubes of white light that looked like long fluorescent tubes. However, public outcry resulted in the lights being removed soon after they were turned on.[citation needed]

Despite the initial revulsion of some residents, Sutro Tower is now recognized by many as a Bay Area icon, it appears in local art, television shows, and movies[citation needed] as one of the architectural symbols of the city. The tower is featured in video games, business logos, on clothing, as furniture[10] and even tattoos.[11] The U.S. band Information Society used it on the cover of their album Don't Be Afraid. A local entertainment guide, SF Station, uses it as a logo, as does the collaborative art game SFZero and the Expose SF art competition.


Tower, including base

Construction commenced in 1971 by Kline Towers of Columbia, South Carolina, and the tower was completed in 1973, with the first transmissions on July 4, 1973. Approximately 3,750 m3 (132,000 cu ft) of concrete were used to make the foundation of the 3.7 million pound (1,700 ton) tower. Earthquake proofing includes ballasting two-thirds of the weight of the structure below ground, resulting in a center of gravity at sixteen feet below ground level. It is used to transmit the signals of eleven television stations and four FM radio stations and for various other communications services.

The tower is owned by Sutro Tower Inc., which in turn is owned by a consortium of the four major television broadcasters in San Francisco at the time of its construction: KTVU (previously owned by Cox Enterprises, now owned by Fox Television Stations); KRON-TV (owned by the San Francisco Chronicle at the time of the tower's completion, now owned by Nexstar Media Group); KPIX (a former Westinghouse Broadcasting property, now owned by CBS); and KGO-TV (an ABC-owned station). Sutro Tower also leases space to other Bay Area radio and television stations, including PBS outlet KQED; independent station KOFY-TV; non-commercial station KPJK; and KBCW, a sister station to KPIX. With the advent of channel sharing agreements after the 2016 FCC spectrum auction, San Jose's KQEH began to transmit from Sutro with sister station KQED on January 17, 2018, moving from its former Monument Peak transmitter.

Three other major Bay Area TV stations are unable to be located at Sutro Tower—the NBC-owned duopoly of KNTV and KSTS; and KTVU's duopoly partner KICU-TV. KNTV, which assumed the area's NBC affiliation from KRON-TV in 2002, relocated its transmitter from Loma Prieta Peak to San Bruno Mountain, five miles south of Sutro Tower; KSTS and KICU-TV transmit from east of Fremont. Those locations allow these stations to maintain primary coverage over San Jose and the South Bay—San Jose is the city of license for all three stations.


Night view
Seen above the coastal fog

The facility is accessible only by authorized vehicles. The area near the site offers beautiful panoramic viewpoints of San Francisco. There is a platform near the top of the tower, 232 m (761 ft) above ground and 486.2 m (1,595 ft) above sea level. Only authorized maintenance workers can access the tower via a small two-person elevator that runs inside the west tower enclosed leg. There is no public access within the Sutro Tower property lines.

On a clear day, the tower can be seen from the East Bay peak of Mount Diablo and is sometimes the only part of San Francisco seen above the coastal fog when it is blown inland, typically on summer mornings and evenings.



TV stations that transmit from Sutro Tower include the following. As most of these stations carry additional subchannels on their frequencies, only their main affiliations on the .1 subchannel are listed here. Subchannel affiliations are shown via the Digital channels link.

Callsign Virtual Channel Physical Channel Affiliation Digital channels
KTVU 2 44 Fox 2.1–2.4
KRON-TV 4 38 MyNetworkTV 4.1–4.3
KPIX 5 29 CBS 5.1–5.2
KGO-TV 7 7 ABC 7.1–7.3
KQED 9 30 PBS 9.1–9.4
KOFY-TV 20 19 Ind. 20.1–20.4
KMTP-TV 32 33 Multilingual Ind. 32.1–32.6
KCNS 38 39 SonLife 38.1–38.6
KBCW 44 45 The CW 44.1
KEMO 50 32 Azteca America 50.1-50.4
KQEH 54 30 PBS 54.1–54.4
KPJK 60 43 Public Ind. 60.1–60.5
KFSF 66 34 UniMás 66.1–66.4


FM stations that transmit from Sutro Tower include the following:

Callsign Frequency Format Owner
KOIT 96.5 Lite Rock TDC Communications, LLC (Entercom Divestiture Trust)
KSOL 98.9 Regional Mexican Univision
KFOG 104.5 Triple-A Cumulus Media

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ Sutro Environmental Impact Report (Report). Federal Communications Commission. July 6, 1997. Retrieved June 18, 2015. 
  2. ^ "Furman L. Anderson, Jr., 87, member of North Trenholm Baptist Church who helped design the tallest tower in history in the 1960s". Cola Daily. June 5, 2014. Retrieved June 18, 2015. 
  3. ^ Sutro Tower at Emporis
  4. ^ "Sutro Tower". SkyscraperPage. 
  5. ^ Sutro Tower at Structurae
  6. ^ Rafkin, Louise (October 8, 2011). "Sutro Tower". The New York Times. Retrieved June 18, 2015. 
  7. ^ Archived from the original on June 30, 2013. Retrieved April 30, 2013.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ "SnapZoom—Space Claw". Retrieved April 30, 2013. 
  9. ^ "Flickr: Photos of The Space Claw". 
  10. ^ Godar, Justin. "Sutro". Godar Furniture. Archived from the original on June 18, 2015. Retrieved June 18, 2015. 
  11. ^ Hartlaub, Peter (May 28, 2012). "Stature of Sutro Tower rises". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved June 18, 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]