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Sunol Water Temple

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Open air round, marble structure resting on a layered base with twelve columns supporting the round, marble roof. There are leafless trees in the background.
The Sunol Water Temple

The Sunol Water Temple is located at 505 Paloma Way in Sunol, California. Designed by Willis Polk, the 59 foot high classical pavilion is made up of twelve concrete Corinthian columns and a concrete ring girder that supports the conical wood and tile roof. Inside the temple, water originally from the Pleasanton well fields and Arroyo de la Laguna flowed into a white tiled cistern before plunging into a deeper water channel carrying water from the filter galleries to the Niles Aqueduct in Niles Canyon and across San Francisco Bay near the Dumbarton Bridge. The roof covering the cistern has paintings depicting Native American maidens carrying water vessels. The temple is open to the public Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.


"Circular coffered ceiling divided into twelve sections radiating from the center. Nine sections have Greek figures painted on wood insets. Three are blank and have no figures.
The restored ceiling of the temple. The empty sections were never completed.[1]
Map showing the San Francisco Bay area. Areas to the south, east and west of the Bay are in red to denote owned locations and red lines show pipelines between areas.
A 1922 map showing the property and pipelines of the SVWC, plus the Sunol Temple.
The temple and the surrounding area.

Since the mid-19th century a private company, the Spring Valley Water Company (SVWC), owned much of the Alameda Creek Watershed and had held a monopoly on water service to San Francisco.[2][3] In 1906, William Bowers Bourn II, a major stockholder in the SVWC, and owner of the giant Empire gold mine, hired Willis Polk to design a "water temple" atop the spot where three subterranean water sources converge (a pipe from the Arroyo de la Laguna, Alameda Creek, through the Sunol infiltration galleries, and a 30-inch pipeline from the artesian well field of Pleasanton).[4]:12 Some sources claim Bourn wanted to sell the water company to the City of San Francisco and saw the temple as a way to appeal to San Francisco voters, who would have to approve the purchase[2] (municipal efforts to buy out the SVWC had been a source of constant controversy from as early as 1873, when the first attempt to purchase it was turned down by the voters because the price was too high[4]:14). Other sources claim that as one born into wealth and classically educated, Bourn was partially motivated by a sense of civic responsibility.[5]

Polk's design, modeled after the ancient Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, Italy, was constructed in 1910 (Tivoli is where many of the waters that fed Rome converged in the foothills of the Apennines). Prior to the construction of the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct, half of San Francisco's water supply (6 million gallons a day)[6] passed through the Sunol temple. The SVWC, including the temple, was purchased by San Francisco in 1930 for $40 million.[4]:14

For decades the Water Temple received many visitors and was a popular location for picnickers. By the 1980s the water temple had badly deteriorated, and was severely damaged in 1989's Loma Prieta earthquake, leading some community leaders to call for its demolition. The site was closed to the public because of safety concerns.[7] A community effort led to the temple's restoration from 1997 to 2001, at a cost of $1.2 million, including seismic and accessibility upgrades.[8] Following its restoration the temple opened again to the public. Today any water that flows through the temple is not part of the potable water supply.

Fields adjacent to the temple belong to the city of San Francisco which has authorized the digging of a gravel quarry on the site.[9][10] Local residents concerned about the temple's future brought a lawsuit to attempt block the quarry project,[11] but eventually ran out of funds and dropped the suit.[12]

In June 2006, a new facility named the Sunol Agricultural Park was opened on a site adjacent to the temple.[13] The park provides space for small businesses and nonprofit groups to grow produce and was originally a project of a non-profit called Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE).[14] The park serves a platform for service and educational programs related to sustainable agriculture and environmental conservation.[15]


"I will make the wilderness a pool of water and the dry lands springs of water. [Isaiah 41:18] The streams whereof shall make glad the city. [psalms 46:4] S.V.W.C. MCMX [Spring Valley Water Company 1910]"

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Water Temple Restoration Tour". Save Our Sunol. Archived from the original on April 15, 2012.
  2. ^ a b Rafkin, Louise (February 25, 2012). "Local Intelligence: Sunol Water Temple". Bay Citizen. Retrieved March 10, 2020 – via New York Times.
  3. ^ Smith, Matt (September 22, 2004). "Big Dam Mess". SF Weekly. Retrieved March 10, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c Hanson, Warren D. (2005). San Francisco Water and Power: A History of the Municipal Water Department and Hetch Hetchy System (6th ed.). San Francisco, California: City and County of San Francisco. OCLC 60658054.
  5. ^ Brechin, Gray (1999). "Water Mains and Bloodlines". Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin. Berkeley, Califonia: University of California Press. pp. 72–73. ISBN 0-520-21568-0. OCLC 958457785.
  6. ^ Brown, Teresa (November 29, 2002). "Welcome to Sunol". Pleasanton Weekly. Retrieved March 10, 2020.
  7. ^ Conrad, Katherine (March 9, 2001). "Sunol battles over temple, quarry" (PDF). East Bay Business Times. Retrieved March 10, 2020.
  8. ^ "Water temple rehab overcomes years of neglect". American City & County. Vol. 116 no. 7. May 2001. p. 22. Retrieved March 10, 2020.
  9. ^ Pena, Michael (September 9, 2000). "Landmark Day in Sunol: Water Temple restoration to be celebrated as quarry debate simmers". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved March 10, 2020.
  10. ^ Griswold, Belinda. "Sunol Sellout: PUC allows mining of pristine valley amid conflict charges", SF Bay Guardian, May 22, 1996.
  11. ^ Burgarino, Paul (December 18, 2005). "Protesters fight Sunol quarry". Tri-Valley Herald. Pleasanton, California. Retrieved March 10, 2020.
  12. ^ Johnson, Chip (May 5, 2006). "Sunol digs in against compost site". San Francisco Chronicle. p. B1. Retrieved March 10, 2020.
  13. ^ Fraley, Malaika (September 11, 2006). "Park lets all come in for a taste". Contra Costa Times. Archived from the original on March 11, 2007.
  14. ^ Fraley, Malaika (September 25, 2006). "AgPark a growing success". Contra Costa Times. Archived from the original on March 11, 2007.
  15. ^ "Sunol AgPark". Sustainable Agriculture Education. Retrieved March 10, 2020.

Coordinates: 37°35.127′N 121°53.126′W / 37.585450°N 121.885433°W / 37.585450; -121.885433

External links[edit]