The True Story Behind the Myths and Mysteries of Searsville Lake


When police are called and something goes wrong like an officer uses excessive force or kill. Someone who's unarmed departments can launch an internal affairs investigation to look into it here in california. Those investigations were secret until now we've sifted through interrogation tape and talk to witnesses to find out who does the system. Police accountability really served. And who does it protect. Listen now on our watch. A podcast from npr and k. Q. e. d. from k. q. e. d. before my family moved to the bay area i lived in maryland. Where summers are hot. I spent almost every day all day at our local pool. And even though. I love the bay area. It just doesn't feel like summer without those lazy days of sunbathing. Vending machine treats and hours the water so i was intrigued. When bakeries listener david mataya said in the nineteen seventies. His family used to drive a half hours south from their home and foggy daly city for some fun in the sun at a place called series. Ville david now lives in rohnert park but he wants to know whatever became seriously ill on the peninsula today on the show were diving into local swimming lor complete with manmade beaches and swedish high divers plus did leland stanford really flood town to make this lake. I'm between a schwartz and this is bay. Curious support for bay curious comes from sierra. Nevada brewing company family owned operated and argued over since nineteen eighty proud supporter of independent thought. Whether that's online over the air or in a bottle more at sierra nevada dot com mention the peninsula and you know we have to call in our resident peninsula. Maven rachel myrow. Hey katrina when i think of the lakes on the peninsula rachel i think of those pretty blue lakes. You see west to eighty between like san bruno and redwood city as it happens katrina those two reservoirs the crystal springs reservoirs were built by the same outfit that built the series ville damn back in the late nineteenth century. So bear with me. You need a little bit of history to know how the place known. As series ville lake came to be in the years following the gold rush. San francisco's growing population was thirsty for drinking water and a private company sprang up called the spring valley water company which bought up a lot of farmland on the peninsula south of the city to take advantage of all the creek water pouring off the santa cruz mountains. The company built a handful of dams and reservoirs to collect and direct that water north to san francisco. Now around this time katrina leland stanford was building a brand new university campus in the region and he bought a small reservoir. From the spring valley water company for use on his campus leland stanford that guy always seemed to be one step ahead of the game. That's how we got to be a real road baron and it bears repeating that. This guy was so rich. His quote unquote farm was a whopping eighty. Two hundred acres. Some of the land is flat but much of it is made up of rolling hills and burgling creeks that run from the mountains to the bay creeks that i presume feed the little reservoir on the campus. You said leland's denver. Bought a handful of creeks. Yes the thing is. This reservoir proved to be a major disappointment as a drinking water source because one of the creeks that fed into it also carried tons of silt and sediment down from the mountains. The water smell awful. The water tasted off all all of the sinks and bathtubs had yellow or brownish stains. That could not be removed. That's julie kane historian for heritage services at stanford so they figured out relatively quickly. This water was really going to only be good for irrigation and fire protection but if the reservoir couldn't deliver potable water it was still pretty sweet place to hang out there. Were about two hundred families living in the area roughly and the lake became an immediate unofficial recreational spot with people that live nearby swimming boating picnic game in one thousand nine hundred twenty two a stanford couple lease the property so they could teach water sports and run a summer camp ernst and greta branston in both swedish immigrants and champion divers. Greta was the first woman ever to win an olympic gold medal for high diving in one thousand nine hundred twelve girl scouts and boy scouts camped on the property tons of sand was brought into create. A man made beach. There was a snack shack. Fifteen hundred people might show up on a sunday. Twenty five hundred people on holiday weekend. It was a scene or not just the local community but really anybody within the bay area. I have photographs memorial day and it looks like coney island coney island for those of you. Unfamiliar with the new york. Metro area is a brooklyn neighborhood. That famously morphs into a beach party spot. Each summer the beach party spot here on the stanford campus was called camp. Sears phil wait. So where did that name series. Ville come from near the lake. There was a tiny town called series. Ville the doesn't exist anymore. But here's why. I should take a moment katrina to address a couple of pervasive rumors about spearsville lake. When i was researching this story. I posted on a number of facebook history groups and i got hundreds of responses many of which mentioned two stories that turned out to be false number one. A number of people believed the town of series ville was flooded by the construction of the reservoir. That was a rumor. Started by ernst branston. Who loved to scare his diving students by telling them they could hit their heads on an old series ville rooftop if they weren't careful my god and rumor number too fast forward to nineteen sixty eight. Some baby boomers on facebook told me about a legendary concert. They remember hearing about but could not have attended. Because as julie kane explains the university got wind of it while it was being organized and shut that concert down they would ahead great people though country joe and the fish joan baez everybody in their dog. That was anybody in. San francisco is on that list. Why are there so many rumors about this place. Rachel we'll think about it katrina many of the people alive today who remember series ville would have been children or teenagers when they visited like our question. Asker david mattera. Their memories are all a little bit hazy now but they're not wrong to remember it was a big fund. Seen travel was the university's biology department was growing tired of having to share. Its twelve hundred acre biological preserve with the party animals of the bay area. There's absolutely no mystery as to why the park was. Shut down so picture. Grassland chiappero oak woodland management evergreen forest and even freshwater wetlands around the reservoir technically manmade stanford researchers have conducted studies on this land for decades checker spot butterflies climate change invasive plants. A lot of this didn't mean much to people off. Campus just coming to visit series ville lake and over the decades. They unwittingly trampled on a lot of science projects which really is continued to this day with local kids. Who got nothing better to do so. In one thousand nine hundred seventy six. The university bought out the camps lease and closed the swimming spot damp. You can still take dawson led tours of what's now call the jasper ridge biological preserve but the party is over. So that answer is david mateos question about what became of sears vo lake but now that we know the history of the dam and the lake behind it. We should talk about what's been happening. In recent decades there was a lawsuit over the damn right. Yes it's something. A lot of current peninsula locals ask about i talked to an environmentalist named matt sticker. Who grew up in portola valley one of several peninsula cities that popped up near stanford. His parents swam series ville lake. He remembers playing in the creeks that feed the reservoir when he was a boy discovered that there is a steel enron that used to run from the bay all the way up to windy hill and valley where i lived. He remembers one. Brave little steelhead trout in particular. This was actually a seal. Has it come from the ocean that may have swam from as far away as off the coast of japan. All the way back to the stream. It was born in this useless dan. That's not serving a function anymore as preventing it from swimming back to its home. As a grownup beneficial biologist sticker started a group called beyon- sears ville dam which was one of several groups that spent decades trying to get stanford to budge on restoring the local watershed. This something like its original glory. It did take a lawsuit by a couple of those groups but the university has budged. Kind of it's come up with a plan not to get rid of series ville damn altogether which is what sticker wants but to open a hole in the bottom of the dam that would let the steelhead trout returning from the bay go upstream and it would let the water go downstream even so you can anticipate stanford has to engage in a lot of meetings in the years to come with the public and various agencies before anything finally happens on the ground so i gotta give the last word to kane. I'm probably going to put words in somebody's mouth but i'm sure somebody at stanford is shaking his or her head going to hell. Did we buy that. Place for sears. Been lake sounds like it would have been a blast in its heyday. Thank you rachel. Thank you katrina rachel. Myrow is senior editor of silicon valley. News desk julie kane co writing a book with another local historian. Nancy lund all about sears. Bill damn look for that soon and you can see. Awesome photos of sears. Ville lake in all its glory on our website bay. Curious dot org bay. Curious has been documenting good local swimming spots for a while. Now check out our show notes for some insider tips on where you can swim. Our show is produced by susie. Wacho mcmurray and me katrina. Schwartz is a production of member supported cake in san francisco. The bay curious team is off next week for memorial day. But i'll see you back here in two weeks.

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