In addition to storing water and creating proper water pressure for the surrounding houses and businesses, the reservoir has also been a training ground for firefighters, a blood bank, a public art canvas and a cellphone tower. Plus it has been camouflaged.
During WWII the tanks were painted camouflage. It’s not known if this was more in solidarity with the war time effort or if there was really fear of an air strike. Center For Sacramento History / Catalogue #1985/024/3446
Providing Water Pressure for East Sacramento
“The city got their money’s worth, I mean, these things are operating and they still work great,” says Ed Silva, water treatment expert with the City of Sacramento. The original project cost $703,554 and was paid for in party by federal funds as part of The New Deal.
Three million gallons of water is held in the top 35 feet of the structure, held up by 44 interior columns arranged in concentric rings. The tank is lined with steel in varying thicknesses.
Michael Bishop is the artist responsible for the blue light markings on the side of the tower. He got to peek inside the water storage space when he was working on the art piece.
“It’s like a donut that’s been sliced in half,” says Bishop about the inside of the water tank. “It’s beautiful… I wanted to swim in it. It’s gorgeous. It’s painted aqua. It’s really spectacular.”
We’d love to show you a picture of this, but the city wouldn’t let us for security reasons. Chris Harvey with the Sacramento Fire Department did let us into the bottom part of the tower.
“There’s an interior staircase that we don’t really have access to, that goes all the way up to the top and the reservoir is actually up above that platform there,” Harvey says as he points up. “And that’s what creates the water pressure for this neighborhood.”
Mike Ragan is a water treatment supervisor for the city of Sacramento - his team has access to the water storage area.
“Every one-foot of elevation is 2.3 lbs of pressure,” says Ragan, “Engineering wise they were ahead of their time back in the 30s.”
The lower cavern in the Alhambra tower. Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio
The East Sacramento Tower Of Blood
Sacramento Fire Department Spokesman Chris Harvey grew up in the neighborhood around the tower.
“When I was a kid all the kids in this neighborhood thought that this was full of blood, because it said ‘Sacramento Blood Bank’ on the front in big letters and it’s this giant tank,” says Harvey, laughing.
The neighborhood kids weren’t entirely wrong. The first floor of the tower was converted into offices for blood bank employees. They stored bags of plasma in the large cavernous part of the tower, “because the water keeps it a really low temperature, so you just keep the plasma in there and there’s very little refrigeration,” artist Michael Bishop explains.
Firefighters train on and pose in front of the six-story drill tower. Submitted / Sacramento Fire Department
Firefighter’s Training Grounds
The Sacramento Fire Department had a presence on the grounds before the tower was built. A six-story training tower rises adjacent to the tank and for years recruits ran drills up and down the building, now they do most of their training at McClellan Air Force Base.
“Recruits of some of the fire academies would crawl out on these concrete shelves and some of the pillars and spray paint the numbers of their graduating academy,” Harvey says.
After the Blood Bank moved out in the early 2000s, the Fire Department moved into the first floor offices. It’s now the home of the Emergency Medical Services Division.
A Giant Canvas for Public Art
Michael Bishop wasn’t the first artist to use the tower as a canvas. In 1976, artist Horst G. Leissl placed a 12-by-18-foot paper-mache fly on the side of the tower for a week.
Bishop’s piece, commissioned by the city in 2005 was intended to be more permanent than Leissl’s fly. The artwork represents an aerial view of the river and the delta coming into the city, the circle in the middle is the water tower and the squares represent the street grid.
For Bishop, installing the art piece was a challenge.
“I’ve never worked that high before, I’ve never worked on the side like this,” says Bishop. “As an artist I have a lot of expertise, but I don’t have any expertise in putting something like 100 feet in the air.”
The sculpture features 2,000 feet of aqua-blue LEDs. The lights in the circle rise and lower to represent the water within the tank.
CapRadio provides a trusted source of news because of you. As a nonprofit organization, donations from people like you sustain the journalism that allows us to discover stories that are important to our audience. If you believe in what we do and support our mission, please donate today.