A Marriage of the Waters

Just four days before the Pulgas Water Temple ceremony, the Temple was being “polished” and tested. With scaffolding still in-place around the structure a lone workman attends to finishing some detail near the dome – the inscription perhaps.

The gushing water passed under the temple, along a sluice and proceeds to mingle with the San Francisco water in the Crystal Springs Reservoirs. This was a test run on October 24, with the official ceremony and commemoration held on October 28.

Finishing Touches October 24, 1934.
Just a Week Prior, on October 17, 1934, the Naked Temple is a Construction Zone.

On the day of the ceremony, October 28, 1934, crowds gathered. There was a festive atmosphere. A podium and broadcast system were set-up in the Temple and dignitaries gave various speeches from there. Mayor Angelo Rossi spoke, as did the SFPUC President at the time, Lewis F. Byington. Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes gave the main address. He later noted in his diary that he gave a talk on conservation, “with, of course, appropriate references to the occasion that we were celebrating.” Ickes also ceremonially presented Mayor Rossi with “the first sip” of Hetch Hetchy water.

Robert W. Righter describes the tone of the day in his book, The Battle Over Hetch Hetchy: America’s Most Controversial Dam and the Birth of Modern Environmentalism. “It was a perfect fall day – sunny, yet cool… The [crowd] listened occasionally to speeches that added the builders of Hetch Hetchy to the mission padres, explorers, pioneers, and other dreamers and doers who had transformed California. … Some listened to the roar of the arrival of 343 million gallons of water a day.” The San Francisco Examiner reported 20,000 people were in attendance.

“10-28-34 Completion Ceremony”.

More from Righter – “The crowd milled about, fingering their programs, which featured a nude Venus veiled in mountains and clouds pouring water from a large vessel on the city of San Francisco.”

With the ceremony in full swing, the trucks in foreground took up prime real estate at the celebration to show that they were part of the ceremony. Signs on the trucks call out “The C.C. Langevin Co.” In the directory entitled “Amateur Radio Stations of the United States” (not dated) “The C.C. Langevin Co.” is cited as station W6VA with an address of 1517 Sanchez Avenue in Burlingame. So presumably at least one of the trucks was helping to broadcast the event. Indeed, we know that the main address of the ceremony, given by then Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes, was carried over a national radio hook-up.

Cover of the Pulgas Temple Ceremony.
The Center of the Celebration was The Pulgas Temple.

While the celebration of the “Marriage of the Water” was a cause for pride and joy, there was a somber element to the day as well. The domineering and seemingly indomitable Engineer, Michael M. O’Shaughnessy had passed away from a heart attack just three weeks before the dedication ceremony. Supervisor Jesse Colman gave tribute to O’Shaughnessy at the ceremony. And, according to, once again, Robert Righter, the San Francisco Call declared his death, “just days before the final completion of a system to which he devoted the dreams and efforts of 20 years” as a tragedy.

A portrait of Michael O’Shaughnessy.

The temple erected for the 1934 ceremony was not the temple that one may visit today. It was a temporary structure and fairly simple. The permanent temple was designed by Architect William Merchant and Executed by French Stone Mason Albert Bernasconi. Merchant had designed buildings for the 1915 World’s Fair and worked with Bernard Maybeck in designing the Palace of Fine Art. Bernasconi had contributed to San Francisco City Hall, the War Memorial opera House, and Grace Cathedral, among other structures.

Pulgas Water Temple in recent times.