The Bay Area is home to some of the most recognizable landmarks in the world, but even locals may not know about the Pulgas Water Temple, a tranquil monument and reflecting pool in the countryside of Redwood City. San Francisco built this monument back in 1938 to celebrate the engineering marvel that carried water from the Sierra Nevada mountains on a 160-mile journey to the Bay. Only 2 other such water temples exist in the United States.
The stone temple is composed of a circle of Corinthian columns upholding a frieze inscribed with the words, “I give waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people.” It once contained a well with water from the canal, but the well has since been covered with a grate and water hasn’t flowed through the temple since 2004. The structure is an homage to Greek and Roman architecture, and accompanied by an impressive reflecting pool and two rows of cypress trees.
Greco-Roman engineering systems were also the model for the Hetch-Hetchy acqueduct, a 24-year project lasting through the Great Depression which transported Sierra alpine water to the Bay Area’s Crystal Springs Reservoir. The $102M project was completed in 1934, at which point a plywood version of the current water temple had been erected. A crowd of locals gathered at the temple to celebrate the acqueduct’s completion, which ensured a secure supply of good drinking water for the first time since the 1906 earthquake. Four years later in 1938, the permanent stone temple was erected.
The Pulgas Water Temple is free to visit, but hours are 9am-3:30pm Monday-Friday. The ground are also open on Saturday and Sunday at those times for pedestrians, but the parking lot is closed. Visitors to the temple may also explore the surrounding areas and nearby watershed via an easy 6.6km trail.
If you’re a fan of Bay Area history, be sure to put the Pulgas Water Temple on your list!