Landscape and Natural Systems
Ecological/ Hydrological History
The campus shares a common ecological history with Lake Merced. Until the early 1940s, a seasonal stream flowed through
the campus into the northeastern arm of the lake, which extended some 600 feet into the present campus along the former
stream canyon. The valley that runs east-west through the campus is a remnant of the former canyon and lakebed.
The lower course of the stream had already become marshland by 1933 when Lake Merced Boulevard was constructed. At
that point, the stream was piped beneath the roadway and the flow directed into the lake on the other side. Leveling the
stream canyon in the early 1940s and straightening Lake Merced Boulevard in 1952 effectively eliminated the remaining
When the campus property was purchased in 1939, the canyon contained dense vegetation including brush, trees, and wild
artichokes. Since the sides of the canyon were too steep to farm, this vegetation was likely to have been riparian species
native to the area. All was destroyed in early the 1940s when the stream canyon was leveled.
John Westfall, Professor Emeritus, Department of Geography and Human Environmental Studies, SFSU, San Francisco
State University: An Air-Photo History of the Lake Merced Campus, 1999.
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