In the 1880s and 1890s, a reclusive man named Nelson Shoots dug deep mine shafts in search of gold in the rocky hills a half-mile west of Sunnyside, in Sutro’s forest of eucalyptus trees. He worked his claim for over seventeen years, the public learned, when his exploits came to light as he lay on his deathbed in the spring of 1898. The San Francisco Call devoted a whole page to the story, complete with illustrations.
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.