Lake Temescal is a man-made lake, originally almost a mile long and covering 18 acres, that was created by damming Temescal Creek in 1868. The reservoir was built by Anthony Chabot's Contra Costa Water Company to provide Oakland with drinking water. Chinese immigrants who came to work on the railroads provided the backbreaking manual labor to clear the lake bed of vegetation and soil. Teams of horses were run back and forth across the clay core of the dam to compact it during construction. The derivation of the name Temescal is described on the the Oakland Wiki page for the Temescal neighborhood.
The area was transferred from the East Bay Municipal Utility District to the East Bay Regional Parks District, which opened it to the public in 1936. The lovely stone beach house was built by the WPA in 1938. The beach house can be rented for special events, and behind it there's a patio and garden area that is frequently used for weddings and parties.
Lake Temescal ceased being part of the water supply system in 1930, but it has occasionally been used as a water source since then -- not for drinking water, but for fighting fires. In 1991, helicopters used it for water to fight the Oakland firestorm. It was used again in 2009 to fight a smaller fire on the other side of the Caldecott Tunnel.
The park is very popular with people from all over Oakland for picnics, hiking, fishing, and swimming. Unfortunately the water has become prone to problems with blue-green algae and occasionally coliform bacteria, so check with the East Bay Regional Parks page for the latest before swimming.
In the late 1800s Bohemian artists and writers camped on the edge of the lake, including the painter J. H. E. Partington who after moving from Manchester, England to Oakland with his family in 1889, lived in a tent on the shores of Lake Temescal.
Spanning the Temescal Canyon arm of Lake Temescal was the Sacramento Northern train trestle, over which The Comet carried passengers. This arm of the lake and the trestle were filled in during the Broadway Tunnel project in the mid 1930s. The railway across this section was retained atop the fill.
Links and References
- East Bay Regional Parks page for Lake Temescal
- Lake Temescal on Wikipedia
- Partington Family Papers : Additions, 1865-1979 Online Archive of California
- Geology of Temescal Canyon Oakland Geology blog
- Groundwater Study and Water Supply History of the East Bay California State Water Resources Control Board