By Katherine Hon | North Park Historical Society
The North Park Historical Society has a big project ahead. The elevated water storage tank known locally as the “North Park Water Tower” looms large over the heart of San Diego’s earliest streetcar suburbs. At 127 feet tall, the 1.2-million-gallon tank can be seen for miles around. The tank was constructed in 1924 to provide better water pressure to the quickly growing area surrounding it. The structure is the only known example of a full hemispherical bottom, elevated riveted steel plate water storage tank supported by a dozen Z-laced girder steel legs in Southern California, if not the entire western United States. (Most such elevated tanks are set on only four legs and are considerably smaller.) It was reputed to be the “largest elevated tank in the world” in 1924. Now, this beloved community icon needs some help if it is to celebrate its 100th birthday.
Through efforts supported by the North Park Historical Society, the elevated tank was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 25, 2013 as part of the University Heights Water Storage and Pumping Station Historic District. It is owned by the city of San Diego and sits in the center of a still-active city water supply facility complex. The existing soccer fields between El Cajon Boulevard and Howard Avenue at Oregon Street are the top of an active water supply reservoir. However, the elevated tank has been empty since the 1990s when more stringent seismic criteria that took into account the dynamics of sloshing water were implemented. Unfortunately, this means that water bill revenue cannot be dedicated to its maintenance.
In July 2014, V&A Consulting Engineers, a local consulting firm specializing in evaluating the condition of public facilities, provided an initial assessment of the elevated tank from the ground at no cost as a contribution to the community. The assessment focused on the condition of the existing coating to help answer the question many people ask about “painting” the structure. The good news is that the existing coating, which was applied most recently in 1983, is in relatively good condition. It is recommended that the elevated tank be re-coated in about 10 years. The bad news is that the existing coating should be removed before a new coating is applied, because the existing layers are now too thick to hold an additional layer. More bad news is that a lead abatement and containment plan would have to be implemented for the removal process because there is lead in the existing coating materials on the elevated tank.
This would be a major engineering and construction effort estimated to cost around $1.7 million. It may take some time to establish the funding necessary, and this is a project that will have to be managed by the city. The North Park Historical Society is interested in working with stakeholders throughout the community and the state to help raise funds for a full assessment of the entire structure, a new coating, and an appropriately located educational monument to document the significance of the “North Park Water Tower” in San Diego’s history.