For years, I have driven past a beautiful pair of gates on my drive through the Niles Canyon on CA84 on my way to Livermore Valley wine country and wondered what was on the other side. A small sign read “Water Temple” but apparently that was as much information as they were willing to share. Rarely had I ever seen the gates unlocked so, the other day when they were standing wide open, I decided to check out what was in there.
Boy, am I glad I did! At the end of a long drive, I came to this beauty. Modeled after the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, Italy, it is a beautiful structure over the location where three of the water sources from the Alameda watershed meet. Walking up and looking inside, the ceiling holds some nice paintings that are protected with a wire screen from the many birds that fly into the temple for a quick drink of refreshing water.
In its hey day, the water flowed into the temple from the three sources and then dropped down into a series of gravel filters before being directed to the Spring Valley Water Company for distribution to San Francisco and East Bay homeowners. Once the Hetch Hetchy water system was built to bring water to San Franciscans, the water passing through the Sunol Water Temple was no longer needed so it was redirected back to the Alameda Creek.
The water temple is now part of the property of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and is open to the public on Monday through Friday from 9 to 3:00. There is no charge and, given that there is little signage and no publicity, it is a very quiet and peaceful place. If you are in the neighborhood, it is worth a quick look…as is the scenic drive on CA84 through the Niles Canyon that you should take to get there. After winding along the Alameda Creek and passing through the lush canyon, you come out into ranch land. Shortly thereafter is the location of the Water Temple. Out in the middle of a dry and parched ranch, it is the last thing you would expect to find and yet what a find it is.