The large plot of land that was known as the Balboa Reservoir has had a remarkable history, despite never having been filled with water and once being declared “void of positive features” by the City. Through most of the twentieth century it was owned by SF Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), yet none of the uses the land has been put to have had any impact for good or ill on the city’s water supply. Now the last third of it still left in the hands of SFPUC is being developed as a housing project.
Spring Valley’s real estate wager
The reservoir site started as part of Adolph Sutro’s Rancho San Miguel holdings, most of which were acquired by him in 1881. Sutro sold the 42-acre lot on the far southeast corner of his eucalyptus-covered kingdom to the Spring Valley Water Company in 1894. The company’s stated purpose was to build a reservoir there. They didn’t.
Here is a portion of the 1938 aerial photos of San Francisco that shows the extensive farming in the area of Balboa Park below Havelock Street. This land had been used for the purpose of growing food from the 1890s until I-280 freeway was built in the 1960s. Some part of it was cultivated by inmates from the Ingleside Jail, but there was also a nursery business which leased land here.