WAVES, West Campus, and Waterless Basins: the History of the Balboa Reservoir 1945-1983

Second of three articles on the history of the Balboa Reservoir. Read the first one here.

From the end of WWII until the mid-1980s, there were several ill-fated attempts to fund the building of the Balboa Reservoir; it was dug and paved but not finished in the late 1950s. Its real life during these years was as an asset to City College, first as West Campus, then as parking for students, faculty, and staff.

But it also functioned as a place for a host of casual uses by local residents, some legal and some not: teen drivers, go-cart races, runners and walkers, Riordan football team training, underage drinking, motorcycle berm-jumping, police safety training, and more. No city agency seriously considered housing during these years; after WWII there were still plenty of empty lots in the city on which to build.

Making Wartime WAVES

In June 1944 the SPFUC discussed the matter of leasing the reservoir land to the US Government, in line with the US President’s edict that any unused public land be put to wartime use.[1] The Navy was given a lease which was to end six months after the “national emergency.” A large compound comprising many buildings was quickly built for the United States Naval Reserve Women’s Reserve, known under the acronym WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). The facility opened in July 1945. It included housing for over a thousand enlisted and officer women, two-story buildings, and an auditorium, with all the needed water, sewer, electricity, and gas infrastructure.[2]

It was an impressive effort.

1954April12-West-Campus-BalboaReservoir-sm_AAD-7777
1947c. Aerial looking over the Navy’s Women’s Reserve facility on the Balboa Reservoir land. SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY.

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