When people think of communal bathing, the mind typically drifts towards traditional European bathhouses or countries with a storied hydrothermal history.
However, according to Anne Cannady, San Francisco has a strong track record as a former hub of communal hydrotherapy and she’s on a mission to revive the city’s bathing culture.
Cannady is working to bring the Alchemy Springs Communal Bathhouse to fruition in the city, working with wellness consultant, Mia Kyricos of Kyricos & Associates.
The development is being crowdfunding to give local people the opportunity to own part of the company at a manageable cost, alongside accredited investors.
Spa Business spoke with Cannady to explore her vision and understand why she thinks the return of San Francisco’s urban bathhouse culture couldn’t be more timely.
What’s the story behind the development?
In 1894, the Sutro Baths were built in San Francisco by the city’s former mayor, Adolf Sutro, as a large-scale communal bathhouse where family and friends could enjoy the healing waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Over time, the baths became a powerful symbol of the burgeoning of San Francisco as a city, hosting various events and exhibitions, until they sadly shut in 1966 after an arson attack.
Inspired by the same spirit, we’re planning to restore and transform a registered building in a historic part of the city known as Lower Nob Hill to create Alchemy Springs – a new communal bathhouse.
Our design will pay homage to the original Sutro Baths, with balconies overlooking different baths surrounded by plants, art and spaces for relaxation and social events.
The development timeline from pre-construction and design, through construction to opening is estimated to be three years.
What are you building?
Alchemy Springs will be a hydrothermal spa and bathhouse drawing on biophilic design.
Designed by architect Olle Lundberg, our modern urban oasis will take guests on a journey of the senses through winding river baths and lush surroundings.
Bathing amenities will be inspired by water, fire, air and earth, with a focus on helping guests rebalance these elements. They’ll also be able to experience nature’s elements at our spa – from blazing steam saunas and bracing cold plunge pools.
Outside, the journey will continue with an outdoor sunbath and starscape moonbath and refreshing elixirs will be served among vibrant flora in the greenhouse or gardens. Guests will also be able to head to the treatment rooms for a massage or relax in one of the private lounges.
Tell us about the packages
Three-hour drop-in day passes will cost US$70 each (€60, £51), with memberships at US$250 per month (€215, £181). We’re also planning corporate memberships and hotel partnership discounts, with pricing and rates yet to be decided.
What’s your target market?
In the San Francisco Bay Area, bathhouses are often booked in advance and many don’t allow social co-ed bathing. Alchemy Springs will provide an alternative – a grand public bathing facility that caters for members as well as drop-in guests and tourists.
It will channel the true historical intention of bathhouses as being welcoming places for people of every race, gender and level of affluence, to come together in the spirit of wellness and community.
Has the pandemic impacted your plans?
We believe hospitality business models that maintain diverse revenue streams are positioned to adapt to changes in market demand and this will be paramount to our success.
Should we enter a new pandemic, or if the current COVID-19 pandemic is persisting when Alchemy Springs is ready to open, we’ll explore options to generate revenue through online amenities, such as retail, food and beverage, one-to-one massage appointments or small group offerings limited to gathering size restrictions.
Can communal bathing help society heal?
Yes, it gives us a healthy place to gather again and it’s one of the last cell phone-free frontiers, offering true unplugged human connection.
We’re going back to the basics with one of the most ancient community-building rituals in the world and according to the Global Wellness Institute, younger generations in the US are the fastest-growing population of bathers.
Urban bathhouses are popping up across the US from Brooklyn and Detroit to Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland and Chicago.
I think it’s taken the US longer to discover urban thermal bathing because we’ve had a more modest culture than in many European cities – it even took a while for us to be comfortable in swimsuits in a co-ed setting.
Will this be a standalone site?
We have plans to scale and develop in other cities and also to extend the brand into other areas beyond real estate.
How will San Francisco benefit?
San Francisco has been losing its sense of identity as a creative city with a strong community bond and this trend has been accelerated by remote working which has enabled many people to move away.
Bathhouses are the perfect remedy for the rise in stress, tech overload and declines in human interaction and access to nature. This, in particular, led us to incorporate biophilic design in the project, because we’re deeply inspired by the feelings we get from escaping to nature and want to bring that into urban living.
The Sutro Baths once brought the city together under one roof along with exhibitions and community celebrations. We believe it’s time to do so again and that the development will have ripple effects well beyond our city.