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Outside Lands Podcast Episode 9: West Portal Creek

Hidden creek near San Francisco's West Portal neighborhood and other secret water sites.
Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast - Mar 8, 2013

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 9: West Portal Creek Outside Lands Podcast Episode 9: West Portal Creek

Podcast Transcription

WNP9 – West Portal Creek

Woody: [00:00:00] It's Outside Lands San Francisco, the podcast for the Western Neighborhoods Project. I'm Woody LaBounty.

David: And I'm David Gallagher.

Woody: And we had a long weekend.

David: Wow. Did we.

Woody: It was such a long weekend that it went before the weekend and we didn't even have a podcast last week.

David: No, that's true.  

Woody: But it was a great weekend.

David: If you missed it, it was the History Expo that is the San Francisco third. Let's start over. It was the third annual San Francisco History Expo, which took place at the Old Mint at 5th and Mission.

Woody: Who puts on this Expo you're speaking of?

David: Why, it's a collaborative event, done by about 30 groups and hosted by the San [00:01:00] Francisco Museum and Historical Society.

Woody: It's a lot of fun because we get to see a lot of friends, a lot of different other history groups. The public comes and has a great time, and so we get to talk to a lot of the public at our table.

David: I mean, that's what it's really good for is the public, because you can, where else can you go to one place and see so much information about neighborhood history or ethnic history or genealogy or just San Francisco in general, and all kinds of displays. I love the Guardians of the City, which is the Police and Fire Department museums. They always bring a firetruck and they, they bring all kinds of stuff from their collections, like fire hats and, and the fire alarm box. That thing.

Woody: The thing everybody likes, though, is they have a display of shivs, which are like knives that prisoners make in the jail.

David: That they've confiscated from the county jail prisoners.

Woody: Old toothbrushes like [00:02:00] sharpened to a point. Anyway, but the History Expo is over, although. Will it come around next year, do we think?

David: I hope so. If it does, we'll let you know.

Woody: Yeah. And it was free, which was also nice, I think for the public. Anyway, we're exhausted because we had a great time and we were talking to tons of people and all that. And we missed our podcast last week, but we're back this week and we have an exciting new subject, I'm sure. What is it, David?

David: It's old creeks on the west side of the city.

Woody: Old creeks. These are creeks that aren't around anymore?

David: I should say that, well, they're, these creeks are still around, but you just can't see them. They're underneath the houses and the streets.

Woody: It's like invisible creeks.

David: Invisible creeks. That's right.

Woody: Well, specifically I think what we're interested in, our office is very close to the West Portal neighborhood, and there's a gully that's sort of hidden. I mean, people don't even know about it if you're driving or walking around, cause [00:03:00] it's kind of in the backyards behind the last block of West Portal and part of Sloat, where there was a large creek, I think back before all this was developed.

David: What was the name of that creek?

Woody: I don't know if it had a name. It's kind of interesting. It seems to have started up near Edgehill, kind of going up towards Twin Peaks and it went down through West Portal, pretty much.

David: Kind of what would be Ulloa, and then across the front of the tunnel and then right by the tunnel.

Woody: Yeah, right by the tunnel.

David: Then kept going down, kind of following Wawona or 14th Avenue down there.

Woody: It's, and you can tell, I mean, the contours of the land are such, it seems like West Portal, it's all made for this aperture, you know, where the tunnel comes out through Twin Peaks. But you can tell it's kind of like a gentle decline into this gully. And there was an old creek that went there, and I think it turned, went down Sloat, past 19th Avenue and eventually ended up…

David: In Laguna Parka.

Woody: Which is… [00:04:00]

David: Pine Lake?

Woody: Pine Lake, that's right. Yeah. In Pine Lake Park, which is, if you don't know Pine Lake Park, it's on the west side of Stern Grove. People know Stern Grove.

David: Right. So, it's down there past Stern Grove.

Woody: And that's still there. People can still go see Pine Lake. That's not invisible.

David: Yeah. So that's why Stern Grove, whenever I go to see a concert there, the ground in front of the stage is a total mud hole. All the time, every time I've ever gone.

Woody: Now, how does this work? So, I'm, I’m guessing that these, this creek in particular was more of a seasonal creek. I don't think it was like a rushing torrent of water all the time.

David: No, yeah.

Woody: It was probably more like got dried out and then kind of came through in the wet season.

David: That's what I think. Yeah.

Woody: One interesting thing that came up about it, I know when we had Richard Brandi on the podcast one week and…

David: Talking about St. Francis Wood.

Woody: Right, because he wrote the giant book on St. Francis Wood. And part of [00:05:00] that, which was very interesting, was when that creek was there and they were planning St. Francis Circle, which is the sort of traffic intersection right in front of St. Francis Wood. One plan, that the landscape designers came up with, was to have the street car line kind of loop out around that creek, and it would be, sort of like, you would see the creek down below the tracks. It was like a scenic byway.

David: Right. That was before they had even designed West Portal Avenue, and they said, well, the streetcar tracks are gonna come through here and we'll separate them. We'll put the creek in the middle so that you have this, you know, rural vista as you're riding the street car.

Woody: Yeah. Would that, I think it would've been a logistical nightmare, but it would've been pretty neat. You would've been kind of above looking down and seeing the creek sort of bubbling below here.

David: All that kind of city beautiful, return to nature idea that they had.

Woody: Yeah.

David: That got quashed.

Woody: Yeah. I think it was M.M. O’Shaughnessy, the City [00:06:00] Engineer, who said, nah, we're not gonna do that.

David: He loved concrete, that guy.

Woody: That's right, there wasn't enough concrete. There probably would've been a lot of concrete involved in that plan, but yeah, you're right. And the other thing is though, I, you know, for all the great stuff that M.M. O’Shaughnessy oversaw that was built so well, there's been a lot of landslides and sort of liquification and that sort of thing over the years. And I think it would've been a little dangerous to have the streetcar tracks over there.

David: Yeah, I do agree. So anyway, this creek is now underground, kind of down West Portal, but also down Wawona Avenue. Right?

Woody: Or Wawona Street.

David: Wawona Street. Yeah. Alright, so this creek is underground…

Woody: Now wait. Wawona was recently in the news, this Wawona Street and the intersection of around 15th Avenue was recently in the news, David.

David: Was it?

Woody: Yes. And you know why?

David: Because a water main broke right there.

Woody: And what happened? The whole [00:07:00] thing.

David: All the houses around there, so, it's kind of a big basin right there and the water main broke. And flooded up to about three feet high on the houses.

Woody: I think I saw a picture of a car where you can only see the roof,

David: Yeah.

Woody: Kind of sticking out a parked car.

David: If you walk down there, you can say, yeah, I can understand why this might be an old creek bed.

Woody: An old bathtub. So, the water main broke and flooded, but that wasn't the only time that flooded because we have a picture on our website. I think it was heavy rains about 75 years ago or something like that.

David: 1938.

Woody: Oh, that is 75.

David: February 14th. Valentine's Day.

Woody: So last Valentine's Day that just passed, 75 years ago, there was, so a backup of the gutters or the sewage system or whatever with the heavy rains in that whole area flooded then too.

David: 18 days of rain.

Woody: Okay, that'll do it. So, we have a picture of it flooded in 1938 and it just flooded again, [00:08:00] and there used to be a creek, so…

David: Well, I don't understand. I mean, I can understand why the water would want to go there because it's on a creek bed, but I don't understand why it pools up right there. Is it because the construction has blocked its route, or?

Woody: Yeah. So, I think what happens is where West Portal is, I think they had to build up a little bit of a grade there.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And where it would naturally have just kind of like gone straight down to where the creek was. Now it kind of goes up hill to West Portal and so I think it did make a little bathtub.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Which probably wasn't there originally.

David: But there is a gully, if you look back behind the Christian Science Church and behind Sloat there, on its way down towards 19th Avenue. There's a pretty deep gully there.

Woody: Not the Christian Science Church. That's over at Junipero Serra. But a kind of a retirement home.

David: A retirement home, Ardenwood.

Woody: Ardenwood. I don't even know if we'd call it a retirement home, but yeah, like a…

David: We don't know what it is.

Woody: We don't know what goes on behind those gates. I'm sure, I’m sure it's, I [00:09:00] don't think it's a church. Let's put it that way.

David: Oh, all right.

Woody: But yeah, I know what you mean. Right back there behind Sloat, behind west of West Portal. And yeah, you know what, another tidbit. Another tidbit, another historical fact for you? As you go in that little wooded area where the creek would've gone behind, east, north of Sloat and east of 19th Avenue, it's all kind of wooded still.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And there's the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple. That was, there was a gentleman whose name I'm not remembering right now, who had a little estate there for a long time and a big house and a Japanese garden that all kind of went around in the trees back there.

David: Huh.

Woody: And it's something I didn't really know about. I kind of saw a little bits and pieces here in newspaper and people's memories. But there's a whole collection at the San Francisco Main Library about this guy and about his Japanese garden. So, there was a whole little secret there.

David: Sounds like another podcast.

Woody: It is, but it was right along the creek. Again, natural area. And I think he kind of took advantage of that creek. So, [00:10:00] but which has no name.

David: We don't know what the name is.

Woody: Should we give it a name?

David: Okay.

Woody: What should we call it.

David: Well…

Woody: Crawdad Crick?

David: No.

Woody: No, there's no crawdads there, probably.

David: No.

Woody: Ardenwood Creek?

David: Ok, but I don't think Ardenwood was there either.

Woody: We could call it West Portal Creek, but there was no West Portal before. But the creek was there before the portal.

David: I don't know. It had to have a name and that is something we'll have to figure out.

Woody: How about we take suggestions from our listeners?

David: Okay. You wanna, you have a suggestion for that creek?

Woody: Yes. Name. We gotta name the creek. I don't think it was ever named.

David: Name the creek.

Woody: And now, but you're telling me it's still there. If, if I dug down underneath 14th and Wawona or whatever, I'm gonna find this creek. You think?

David: Yes.

Woody: Really?

David: Well, I think it's in a pipe. I think they put it in a pipe.

Woody: Put it in a pipe and smoke it. What do you mean?

David: I don’t know. [00:11:00] So, access to that ravine is challenging. So, I don't know if there's a pipe that pops out that the creek there is daylighted in the ravine or not. You can't get back there cause of the schoolyard and the private property and the Christian Science property. Masonic…

Woody: Temple.

David: Temple is there.

Woody: I have another question for you, David, which I know you probably can't answer, but remember about 10 years ago or so, there was a landslide sort of on Portola, near Edgehill. And I think it was the police chief's house or something.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Was that where the creek was sort of originating from?

David: I think that's where it did come from. Yeah. That side of Edgehill.

Woody: So, I bet that was it. And, and that's the thing you probably shouldn't build over creeks and ponds. Because in 1989 they had the big earthquake in the Marina. That's all landfill and all the buildings, well, a lot of buildings fell down.

David: Right.

Woody: And then, in the Inner Sunset, I remember 1989, the most damage we had in the Sunset was right along 7th Avenue, 8th [00:12:00] Avenue.

David: Was there a creek there?

Woody: There was.

David: The creek came down 7th Avenue from Laguna Honda?

Woody: Right. Laguna Honda. The lake right there near Laguna Honda Hospital. That whole path of 7th Avenue was another sort of natural gully that had a creek that went into where Golden Gate Park is. So, all those houses along 7th Avenue are built above that creek and during the earthquake, all the facades kind of came down. So don't build over creeks and ponds.

David: Well, so, one of the misconceptions that I had about the Sunset District was it's a vast, arid sand dune, like, like the…

Woody: Are you talking…

David: …Sahara Desert.

Woody: …culturally or naturally?

David: Naturally.

Woody: Oh, good.

David: Yeah. I already got in trouble for culturally, claiming it was a desert. But, but that isn't true, is it? There was [00:13:00] biodiversity and there was, there is water in the Sunset. I mean, we talk about the early settlers out by the beach digging wells and finding fresh water within 200 yards of the ocean.

Woody: Right.

David: But were there any open bodies of water out in the Sunset?

Woody: There were little ponds. Again, I think they were kind of seasonal. And I know out on outer Rivera Street there was a large, large sort of pond that I've had old timers tell me was kind of a, kind of a muddy, sketchy little thing. But if you see pictures of it, it does look like Lawrence of Arabia. Like, we found the oasis.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And that you can see sometimes in some early aerials and some maps, this large Rivera Street pond. Probably about five or six blocks from the beach. So, if your house is over at Rivera, around 45th Avenue, you might want to poke around. You probably already know this because you're probably having drainage issues in your basement or something, or in your garage. [00:14:00]

David: Yeah.

Woody: But yeah, there were little ponds and there was definitely a natural environment of scrub. It wasn't just sand.

David: Is it, I think I read somewhere that the Chain of Lakes in Golden Gate Park…

Woody: Yeah, is natural.

David: …were natural. Yeah. Even though they planted them with plants from all over the world.

Woody: Yeah. Yeah.

David: That are totally unnatural. Where they planted different regions of plants in each lake or something. But the lakes themselves were natural.

Woody: There are a few lakes in Golden Gate Park that are natural, for sure. So, there you go. There's ponds in the west side in the sand dunes right there.

David: I mean, one other notable west side creek is Lobos Creek, which flows right out to China Beach. Is that where it flows out to?

Woody: Yeah. Well, so.

David: Oh, Baker Beach.

Woody: It hits Mountain Lake, right? It goes along that. And they, they used Lobos Creek for the city water supply for a long time.

David: Really?

Woody: It was a big creek [00:15:00] and they've only recently, kind of, redid it. I'm talking about the city water supply way back in the early days of the city.

David: Yeah.

Woody: When they had a pipe going around Black Point and all that. And it's all naturally kind of been fixed up now. It looks a lot better than when it was in a big concrete pipe.

David: Well, I think they should do that with our local West Portal Creek.

Woody: Which has no name yet.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Until we name it.

David: Let's get it naturally flowing. Daylight it.

Woody: I don't know if we can daylight it, especially if it's a seasonal creek. I guess we could. There's people who know more about this than we do. Natural advocates, people who know about waterways and how that can be done. So, at least it has a head start. Unlike some creeks they daylight, which are in total urban environments, there are trees and there's kind of open space around part of that creek. Behind all the houses and temples and things. So, they could do it, maybe.

David: Or at least make it accessible so you can get back there and see it.

Woody: Go picnic.

David: Go picnic. [00:16:00] Well, you have Stern Grove to picnic in and it is quite muddy right at the creek bottom.

Woody: Yeah. Yeah.

David: So, there's always that.

Woody: I kind of feel like we don't really know much about hidden waterways and we're kind of talking through our hat. But, is that an expression, “talking through our hat?”

David: Yes.

Woody: It’s not talking out of our hat.

David: I don't know if that's an expression.

Woody: Talking out of our hat?

David: No, that's talking out of something else.

Woody: Oh, okay. But I, but I…

David: I was just curious about it because it's been in the news and it filled up with water and there was a flood and we had a picture of a flood on it. And so why was it flooding? Because there is an old creek right there.

Woody: And there's more.

David: There are more.

Woody: I bet people can tell us of a whole bunch more creeks and little hidden ponds.

David: Well, we wanna find some more creeks.

Woody: This doesn't count as a creek, but people always ask me this. You know, Lake Merced used to have an outlet.

David: Yeah.

Woody: To the Pacific Ocean that kind of opened and closed and depending on the shifting sands and that sort of thing. But there was like a little earthquake way back in like the [00:17:00] 1850’s that kind of opened it up and had a little floodgate of water going through, right around where Sloat and Wawona again hits the beach.

David: Yeah.

Woody: There was a little outlet to Ocean Beach from Lake Merced.

David: Really? All the way over there?

Woody: Kind of went up a little bit.

David: Well, I know there was, and there certainly was a creek running down Brotherhood Way into Lake Merced.

Woody: Yeah. You know, I guess if you just look in all these places that seem like they're these odd, long gullies. The reason they're an odd, long gully is because there was probably water running through it at some point or another. I mean, like Brotherhood Way.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Again, it feels like a total natural outlet. Right? This West Portal again feels like this, this little path that obviously water kind of formed, you know, it just has that feeling. So, well, if you know more about creeks and if you have a name for our new initiative to name the West Portal creek?

David: Or if you know what the real name was.

Woody: I don't think it had a real name, but we could make up [00:18:00] one. That's okay. We'd like to hear it. So, you can go to outsidelands.org and contact us. And if you wanna talk about anything, please let us know. We had somebody compliment us on our podcast this weekend at the History Expo.

David: One of our dozens of listeners.

Woody: That's right. He liked it. He thought it was really great.

David: We actually don't know how many listeners we have. We don't have a good way of keeping track. So, if you do listen to the podcast, let us know.

Woody: Yeah. Well, we have one. I know. We have one.

David: We have one.

Woody: This guy came up and said he really liked it and he liked hearing the traffic noise in the background for some reason. Made it seem natural.

David: Yeah. Well, they'll never put a stop sign at Funston and Taraval.

Woody: They should put a stop sign, those poor kids. Well, for this week, or for this time around, I'm Woody LaBounty.

David: And I'm David Gallagher.

Woody: We'll see you next time.

Woody: Learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more about San Francisco history at outsidelands.org. [00:19:00]

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