A Monument to Water: the significance of a local shrine


Emma Cockerell

The fluted columns of the Pulgas Water Temple stand over a pool of blue water. Neatly trimmed pine trees sway gently in the California breeze. At first glance, the Pulgas Water Temple in the hills of Redwood City is mysterious and intriguing — meadows and forest compose the land surrounding its remote location. Despite its isolated location, this peculiar monument bears a unique historical significance — and presents an excellent background for prom photos as well.

Designed by architect William Merchant and constructed by stone carver Albert Bernasconi the Pulgas Water Temple commemorates the completion of the Hetch Hetchy aqueduct in 1934. It is located at the aqueduct’s former terminus.

The Hetch Hetchy aqueduct is a series of tunnels and trenches that provides the Bay Area with water from the mountains of Yosemite. At the time of the aqueduct’s completion, though, the Hetch Hetchy was the first reliable source of fresh water for Bay Area citizens.

A Bible verse engraved on the stone ring above the columns highlights the significance of this communal water system. “I give waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people,” reads the quote from the book of Isaiah.

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Local resident Neil Leeman, 67, claims this infrastructural triumph has since been forgotten by those who visit the temple.

“I think that they [temple visitors] take it [the aqueduct] for granted,” says Leeman, who says he has been a monthly visitor at the temple for 25 years.

The Pulgas Water Temple not only represents a proud testament to the completion of a great feat of engineering, but also serves as a place for the surrounding community to come together.

The temple’s serene beauty and idyllic forest surroundings make it a fitting place for weddings. Lush green grass and beautiful Roman stonework provide an ideal ambiance for all kinds of commemorative events. However, for informal events and gatherings, the temple is also a wonderful place to wind down and relax. A grassy sloped hillside faces the temple, making for the perfect picnic spot on a sunny afternoon.

The next time you feel stressed or want to escape from the bustle of Palo Alto, bring a picnic basket and a friend and head to the Pulgas Water Temple — relaxation doesn’t get any better than that.