Category Archives: History

Straight To The Source

On a recent trip to Yosemite, I found myself staying in a lodge just a few miles from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir & O’Shaughnessy Dam, so we decided to head into the valley to check out the source of our daily shower & drinking water, as well as much of San Francisco’s electricity.

O'Shaughnessy Dam

The Dam, completed in 1923 (with an additional 85 feet added in 1938), provides power for all of San Francisco’s municipal needs, including (but not limited to) General Hospital, San Francisco International Airport, City Hall, and Muni’s electric vehicles (streetcars, LRVs & trolley buses).

It also provides 85% of the City’s water, which is delivered by gravity through 150 miles of pipelines and tunnels that stretch from the Sierras to San Francisco. Because the water is so pure, it’s one of only a small number of city water supplies in the country that doesn’t require filtering.

The Dam & Reservoir are owned by the City & County of San Francisco and operated/maintained by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

Although strongly opposed by John Muir & The Sierra Club for the irreparable harm it would have on the natural beauty of the valley, not to mention the difficulties it would create for the Yosemite-Mono Lake Paiutes Indians, the Dam’s construction was approved by Congress in 1913 with the passage of the Raker Act.

The removal of the Dam and restoration of Hetch Hetchy Valley has long been advocated for by organizations such as The Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund & Restore Hetch Hetchy, but surprisingly it’s been Republican politicians that seem to have taken up the cause over the last few decades. One of the first studies on its removal was commissioned in 1987 by then Secretary of the Department of the Interior under President Reagan, Don Hodel. More recently, in 2007, President Bush proposed a $7 million study, and in 2006 Governor Schwarzenegger deemed its removal “feasible”. However many, including Senator Dianne Feinstein and the City & County of San Francisco, remain staunchly opposed to its dismantling.

The Hetch Hetchy Valley Floor in 1908. Photo: The Sierra Club

Hetch Hetchy Valley today.

With proper funding and motivation, I believe the water & power from the Dam & Reservoir could be replaced with other renewable/local sources, allowing Hetch Hetchy Valley to be restored to its original grandeur. Unfortunately, doing so would take far more political will and financial capital than is likely available in the current climate.

In the meantime, I’ll continue enjoying the most delicious tap water a city dweller can find.


Filed under Environment, General, History, Infrastructure

FREE Comedy Tickets for Cole Valley Alley Readers

Five-time Emmy nominee Will Durst

The infamous ’80s Cole Valley comedy club, The Other Cafe, is launching a new comedy showcase series, with its first SF show next Saturday Night, March 26th. This one night only event will feature Boston’s top comedian Don Gavin with SF favorites Will Durst and Johnny Steele. Three true headliners in ONE show! And based on KQED’s rave review of The Other Cafe reunion show last fall, this upcoming event is sure to be a pee-inducing good time.

The comedy club’s founder, Bob Ayres, is inviting folks from the old neighborhood to the show as special guests of Cole Valley Alley. Tickets are $35 for the general public, but if you grab the comps before Thursday March 24th (and while they last), you can be part of a FREE block of seats set aside especially for CVA supporters. Tickets will given on a first come, first served basis, so don’t delay, as supplies are limited.

Come laugh with us and get to know your neighbors (old & new). Be sure to sign up by Thursday, March 24th, or before the block of tickets are all claimed (whichever happens first).  And don’t forget to tell your neighbors about this amazing deal and show.

DON GAVIN, WILL DURST, AND JOHNNY STEELE.  Sat March 26th, 8 PM at the Eugene & Elinor Friend Center for the Arts, 3200 California Street, San Francisco.

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Filed under Events, History

Dirty Harry Hospital Undergoing Renovation

Renovations have begun on the old Park Emergency Hospital building at 811 Stanyan Street. The building, featured in the 1971 film Dirty Harry, was indeed a functioning hospital from 1902 until 1978, and an ambulance station until 1991. It’s currently home to the SF Recreation & Park Department’s Natural Areas & Volunteer Programs, which have been relocated to McLaren Lodge and the basement of Kezar Pavilion during construction.

Horse Drawn Ambulance in front of Park Emergency Hospital c. 1902-1910. Photo: San Francisco Recreation & Park Department

According to RPD Project Manager Rick Thall, the majority of the work will be done inside the building in order to bring it up to code. There will also be some exterior work done to restore the facade and improve ADA access with the addition of a ramp on the North side of the building. The work should be completed by the end of summer.

Park Emergency Hospital following the 1906 earthquake. Photo: The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley


Filed under General, History

Park Branch Library Celebrates Grand Reopening

After a year of renovations, the Park Branch Library at 1833 Page Street celebrated its Grand Reopening today. Many dignitaries were on hand to mark the event, including City Librarian Luis Herrera, Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi & Scott Wiener, State Senators Mark Leno & Leland Yee, State Assemblywoman & Speaker pro Tem Fiona Ma, Department of Puplic Works Director Edward D. Reiskin, SF Public Library Commision President Jewelle Gomez, and Friends of the SF Public Library Executive Director Donna Bero.

The Jugtown Pirates, the Monkey Butts, and performers from nearby Circus Center & Acrosports were on hand to provide entertainment.

The Jugtown Pirates greet the attendees.

The $2.9 million renovation was completed using funds from a $105.9 million bond measure passed by voters in November 2000, as well as $500,000 in private funds raised by the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. It’s the 16th completed renovation out of 24 total projects.

The branch, originally opened in 1909 at a cost of $34,000, has been upgraded to meet silver LEED certification standards, including energy-efficient lighting, improved electrical and ventilation systems, sustainable linoleum flooring, and an energy-efficient heating system. It’s also been made fully ADA accessible with the addition of two restrooms downstairs and a power assist lower level entrance.

Park Branch Library in 1916

I ran into Peter Warfield of the Library Users Association, who said his group was instrumental in making sure the library preserved many of the historical aspects of the building. Although he’s happy to see the branch open again, he wishes they had done even more to preserve the original character of the library, such as restore the original wood floors and skylights, and keep the original wood surfaces of the 100-year old tables intact (the wood was replaced with linoleum).

The interior of the Park Branch Library as it appeared in 1916.

If you’d like to check out the newly re-minted branch, the hours are:

Monday: 10 AM – 6 PM, Tuesday: 10 AM – 9 PM, Wednesday: 1 PM – 9 PM, Thursday: 10 AM – 6 PM, Friday: 1 PM – 6 PM, Saturday: 10 AM – 6 PM, Sunday: Closed

Mayor Ed Lee arrives.

City Librarian Luis Herrera welcomes the crowd.

City Librarian Luis Herrera, flanked by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi & Mayor Ed Lee.

Mayor Lee talks about the importance of our libraries.

Mayor Lee announces Park Branch Library Day and presents proclamation to City Librarian Luis Herrera & Branch Manager Cathy Delneo.

State Senator Mark Leno presents proclamation to Branch Manager Cathy Delneo.

Assemblywoman Fiona Ma & State Senator Leland Yee present proclamation to Branch Manager Cathy Delneo & City Librarian Luis Herrera.

A hoarse Ross Mirkarimi addresses the crowd.

Supervisor Scott Wiener

San Francisco Public Library Commission President Jewelle Gomez

Official ribbon cutting. From left to right: Branch Manager Cathy Delneo, Department of Public Works Director Edward D. Reiskin, San Francisco Public Library Commission President Jewelle Gomez, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, Supervisor Scott Wiener, Friends of the San Francisco Public Library Executive Director Donna Bero, City Librarian Luis Herrera, State Senator Mark Leno, Mayor Ed Lee, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi.

Musicians from the Jing Mo Athletic Association play the crowd into the Library.

Lion Dancers from the Jing Mo Athletic Association lead the procession into the library.

Lion Dancers from the Jing Mo Athletic Association lead the procession into the library.

The crown funnels in to get a look at the renovated library.

The skylights, plastered over in a 1990s renovation, have been re-painted with a sky mural & birds.

New teen area.

Patrons wait in line to use the new self-checkout machines.

Internet workstations.

The new table lamps feature power outlets for your laptop.

A patron checks out the offerings in the DVD section.

Staircase to lower staff/meeting areas.

The Jugtown Pirates perform in the downstairs meeting space.

Circus Center Performers

Circus Center Performers


Filed under Events, History

The Other Cafe

Ever wonder what that sign above Crepes on Cole is all about? When I first got to the neighborhood, I thought maybe there used to be (or still was) a club upstairs, or that it was actually Crepes on Cole that had “nitely” entertainment.

Well, turns out that corner space was a performance venue/club started by Bob Ayres and Steve Zamek back in 1977, and featured performances from the likes of Kate Wolf, Utah Phillips, R. Crumb, Robin Williams, Paula Poundstone, and Dana Carve.

The club was shuttered in 1989 when the landlord refused to renew the lease, opening a short-lived Chinese restaurant in its place before it became what it is today.

The old club may be no more, but Bob Ayres is still producing The Other Café Comedy Showcase series in SF & Berkeley, including a recent 30th reunion show that included Dana Carvey, Robin Williams, Bobcat Goldthwait, Kevin Pollak, Paula Poundstone, and Will Durst… just to name a few.

Read the full/official story of The Other Cafe here.


Filed under History, Local Business

Secret of the Stones

Whenever I ride my bike to work, I come across a semi-circle of what appear to be old cobblestones at the intersection of Frederick & Shrader Streets.

Frederick & Shrader Stones

Frederick & Shrader Stones

I never thought much of it until I noticed a full circle of similar stones on 13th Street, at Folsom, near Rainbow Grocery.

13th & Folsom Stones

13th & Folsom Stones

13th & Folsom Stones

My curiosity was piqued. What do they mean? Why are they there? Are they the remnants of an ancient civilization, a decorative flare from a bygone era of well funded city government, or simply the remains of an old cobblestone street?

An e-mail to the San Francisco Department of Public Works solved the mystery. Chris McDaniels of the DPW quickly responded to my query:

“The cobblestone circle in the roadway is there to identify an underground San Francisco Fire Department water storage tank or cisterns. In emergencies, the SFFD rely on these indicator to assist in fire fighting when hydrant are non operational. The tank hold several thousand gallons of water and are installed at various location around the City. Modern cisterns use brick instead of cobblestones.”

As to the cistern at Frederick & Shrader, DPW Mechanical Engineer Michael B. Smith went on to say:

“Our records indicate it was constructed in 1908 of reinforced concrete and has a capacity of 75,000 gallons.”

He also sent me these fascinating DPW cistern construction drawings:

Frederick & Shrader Cistern Plans

Cistern Ring Construction Guidlines

The first document appears to be the original plans/work order for the Frederick & Shrader cistern dating back to 1909/1910.  The second is a somewhat more recent diagram from 2007 outlining basic cistern construction guidelines.

So there you have it! The Secret of the Stones. Hopefully they’ll never be needed, but it’s good to know they’re there.

Many thanks to Chris & Michael of the SFDPW for making this post possible.


Filed under General, History, Streetscape

And so it begins…

Welcome to the first post of the Cole Valley Alley!  In case the blog title didn’t give it away, this’ll be your destination for everything Cole Valley, from profiles of local businesses, to planned streetscape improvements, community happenings, hidden treasures, and more!

Please let us know if there’s anything in particular you’d like to see and/or contribute.

Sunset Tunnel under construction in 1926.

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Filed under General, History, Muni