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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I currently have columns running in 3 newspapers;

  • Tri-Valley Herald : Looking Back
  • Valley Times : Do You Remember?
  • The Independent : Do You Remember?

The Articles appear in the Herald and Independent on Thursdays,
and the Times on Sundays.

They will also be found on this page each week as well.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

Archive Page

Sunol Water Temple a sight to behold

By Barry Schrader.................................April 6, 2006

If it hadn’t been for the wealth and artistic inclinations of the president of the Spring Valley Water Company we wouldn’t have the Sunol Water Temple which stands like a sentinel in a field off Route 84 near Sunol today

William Bourne, president of the private San Francisco-based water company and heir to the Empire Gold Mine millions, was determined to make a statement about water and its mythical qualities dating back to Roman times. He hired renowned architect Will Polk to design it to replace a “water shed” which was just a simple wooden barn-like structure at the site.

Attending a talk by artist Catherine Carroll of the San Francisco Department of Public Works, given at the Museum on Main in Pleasanton recently, I learned lots of trivia about the unique water temple which has graced the Sunol countryside since its construction in 1910. The edifice was patterned after another water temple in Tivoli, Italy called the Temple of Vesta. Sunol’s neoclassical wonder includes 24 Doric and Corinthian styled columns and has a bronze sculpture at the pinnacle of the red mission tile dome of dolphins, also forever associated with water. Visitors are awed by the interior paintings on the dome which depict Grecian figures. In fact, artists doing the paintings around 1920 never finished the artwork, supposedly because money was running out for the lengthy project.

When visiting the site, visitors can see an inscription around the interior, though hard to read in its entirety. It says: “I will make the wilderness a pool of water and the dry land springs of water, the streams whereof shall make glad the city.” Peering over the railing down 30 or 40 feet to see a gushing underground stream of water, one is either impressed or frightened. It is meant to instill a sense of the lifegiving qualities of water and showcase the massive Hetch Hetchy water project with its record-length underground tunnels for the aqueduct.

According to Connie DeGrange in her book “A Place Called Sunol” the daily flow under the temple at its peak was six million gallons of water. In 1930 the City of San Francisco bought out the private Spring Valley water company and has maintained the temple and surrounding watershed ever since. In 1999, realizing it needed major renovation and earthquake upgrading, the City closed down the temple grounds for a couple years. The aging roof was removed for restoration and the 90-year-old structure was given a new lease on life. It has been returned to its original state as a monument to a bygone era of opulence and once again is open to the public. I have found it a place of inspiration and quiet seclusion, enjoying the surrounding grove of poplar trees and open fields when no other visitors happen to be there. I can highly recommend it as a landmark you should see up close, as well as share with company from outside our valley.

You can also see the temple sketches and paintings loaned to the Museum on Main by Ms. Carroll still on display.

* * *

Feeding my passion for time capsules, I happened to spot a story in the March 8, 1940 Livermore Herald describing the grand opening of the new US Post Office at Second and South Livermore. In the article it mentions a time capsule of memorabilia was placed in a copper box made locally by J.E. Jensen and sealed during the ceremony before being placed behind the cornerstone. A few of the items included were a history of the city written by City Clerk Elmer Still, membership lists of groups such as the Rodeo Association, Workers Alliance, and St. Michael’s Mothers Club, plus a list of post office employees in Livermore. The American Legion, represented by Livermore Post Commander S.E. Smith and 10th District Vice Commander W. Gatzmer Wagoner, was in charge of sealing the box in the cornerstone and putting into place the granite plaque.

Now the question in my mind is: Will it ever be opened or do we have to wait for the demolition of the building? Apparently the other time capsule I mentioned several weeks ago, also found through a newspaper article, will never be recovered. The owner of the former city hall at First and McLeod said it would be too costly to jack hammer the front steps just after the downtown street renovation project has been completed. So we missed the “window of opportunity” by a few months when the sidewalks and street were all torn up!

 

The columnist can be reached via email at :

Historian2sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551

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