"To assume responsibility for the water supply of a metropolis is to acknowledge a solemn obligation, and to be clothed with a special dignity. Whatever expresses that obligation in terms of beauty enhances the dignity of the water company in the minds of all."
- publicist for the Spring Valley Water Company.
The Sunol Water Temple, designed by San Francisco architect Willis Polk, was completed in 1910. Today most people who live in a city take water for granted. When the tap is opened, clean, drinkable water comes out. In California, in the 1800's, this wasn't always the case. The biggest obstacle to the growth of a city was whether clean, fresh water was available.
The city of San Francisco was built on the tip of a sandy, arid peninsula surrounded on three sides by salt water. The drinking water would have to come from elsewhere if the city was to grow. Private water companies acquired water rights and constructed aqueducts and pipes to carry water to where it could produce the greatest profits by raising the value of urban real estate. The Spring Valley Water Company bought many of the other water companies and the water rights to the counties on the east side of the San Francisco Bay, then piped the water around, across, and under the Bay to San Francisco where it grew a city.
This was at a time before municipal utilities when private companies such as Spring Valley provided the lifeblood of growing communities. Spring Valley's president – William B. Bourne, Jr. – had a sense of noblesse oblige toward the city of which he was an acknowledged leader.
Polk designed the Sunol Water Temple to resemble the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli near Rome. Perforated pipes converging on the Temple collected subterranean water from the Alameda County watershed. There it emerged into a white tiled cistern before plunging into a deeper water main carrying it to San Francisco. The roof covering the cistern has paintings depicting Indian maidens carrying water vessels. An inscription taken from the Prophet Isaiah and from Psalms embellished the temple's exterior: "I will make the wilderness a pool of water and the dry land springs of water. The streams whereof shall make glad the city."
The City of San Francisco purchased the Spring Valley Water Company in 1930. Over time the Sunol Water Temple fell into serious disrepair. What was once a destination for tourists and picnickers is now virtually unknown. Thanks to the attention of people from Save Our Sunol
the City began renovations on the Temple in 1997, completing them in 2000. It is a very interesting place to visit and is open to the public from 9am to 3pm Monday-Friday. Currently the City is considering whether to lease the land directly adjacent to the Temple to a gravel mining company.
Special thanks to Gray Brechin for helping with the history of the Sunol Water Temple.
An object movie, allowing you to walk around the outside of the Temple, was also photographed
on my trip to Sunol. You can see more panoramas
from my "Water Weekend".
Also see the Pulgas Water Temple
, photographed by Erik Goetze for the WWP.
- Panoramas from all over North America of tourist destinations and places off the beaten path.