World War II to Century 21
By the time America entered World War II in 1941, the creek had been straightened at its outlet to the Bay near the Palo Alto Municipal Airport. The Army built Dipple General Hospital on land near the creek in Menlo Park. Later, Stanford Research Institute, the Menlo Park Civic Center and the U.S. Geological Survey moved in. The Lane Publishing Company, home of Sunset Magazine also developed its lush creekside grounds nearby the site of Timothy Hopkins' estate where he ran the Sunset Seed and Nursery Company.
In 1948 the, Palo Alto Bird Sanctuary - better known as "the duck pond" - was dedicated. It marked a turn away from the recreation traditionally afforded by the creek, such as rafting and waterfowl hunting.
The post-war boom in construction started in the late 1940s and continued for 25 years. More housing, commercial development, and roads led to increased runoff into streams and more environmental stress. In December 1955, floodwaters overtopped the banks at Middlefield Road and Pope/Chaucer Street. Debris in the rain-swollen San Francisquito Creek jammed at the Bayshore Highway bridge, sending residents fleeing after midnight and damaging 1,000 homes.
More flooding in 1858 helped persuade Santa Clara County voters to create a flood control district, and streams to the south of San Francisquito were lined with concrete. Riprapping and other flood control work was done on San Francisquito, but not full channel lining.
Although water stayed within the creek banks during the next 40 years, government agencies continued to regard the creek as a source of potential flooding. The complexity of working through various jurisdictions made change difficult. Flooding occurred again in February 1998, raising new fears and appeals for protection.
In the 1960s the Army Corp of Engineers had proposed building a dam to retain water in the upper watershed between Searsville Lake and the Stanford Golf Course. But localized flood control efforts downstream seemed to remove some of the flood potential, and Federal authorities deemed that other communities were more in need of support. Creating a by-pass channel was also rejected as too costly at that time.
In the 1960s a growing environmental consciousness led to rejection of a plan for major industrial development in the baylands. Instead, the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center opened in 1969, flanked by an enlarged marshlands preserve.
During this era, the creekside corridor was also preserved when Menlo Park voters rejected several plans to build a Willow Road Expressway which would have impacted the creek's natural riparian habitat.
Similarly, rising concern for preserving the foothills, some of which form the creek's upper watershed, led to formation of the Committee for Green Foothills in 1962. The Committee persuaded voters to create the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District in 1972, and a few years later Palo Altans banned industry in its foothills west of Interstate 280.
By 1976 Searsville Lake was closed to the public and became part of Stanford's Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. In 1986 the Palo Alto Yacht Harbor closed when voters decided that the financial and environmental costs of further harbor dredging were too high.
While many residents in the first part of the 20th century used the creek and baylands as a dumpsite, careful sewage treatment and better refuse disposal methods were gradually adopted. Highly-treated wastewater now flows into the creek near its mouth, where fishing is allowed at the edge of the bay. In 1991 the former city refuse disposal site was re-developed as J.F. Byxbee Park, honoring the city engineer who had foreseen the need to buy baylands property in the 1920s.
Upper Left Photo:The Palo Alto Yacht Harbor before it was closed in the 1970s.
Lower Left Map:This map shows the straightening of San Francisquito Creek in the 1930s.
Upper Center Photo:Searsville Lake was a recreation area before being included in the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve.
Lower Center Photo:The 1900 block of Edgewood near Greer at midnight, December 22, 1955.
Right Photo:As cities built up around the creek, impervious surfaces increased runoff into the creek.