Tales from the Lake

May/June 2010

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Tales from the Lake

Joel Simon

Created as a reservoir to provide irrigation for the orchards and alfalfa fields of the Palo Alto Stock Farm, Lake Lagunita was a part of the Stanford landscape even before the University was founded. From the Pioneer Class to the present day, Lake Lag has always been a focal point of student life. In its heyday, the lake hosted cherished campus traditions such as the Water Carnival (starting in the 1900s and later revived as Hydro/Aqua Follies) and the Big Game bonfire. Now dry most of the time, and never full, its shores continue to provide a venue for recreation, relaxation and reflection—not to mention a backdrop for countless romances. As Bernarr Bates (see below) mused "To write a history of Lagunita with all of its attendant legend, fable and tradition would be to write a history of the extracurricular life of the University."



Lagunita! The very mention of the name will bring back a train of memories to every son and daughter of the Stanford Red. Across its calm surface has rippled mirth; its murky depths have mutely held their tragedies; and, with every passing year, every passing class, it has passed with them into history.
Bernarr Bates, '32, from "Tales from Lagunita Lore" in the Stanford Illustrated Review, April 1934

My motivation for learning to windsurf on Lake Lag was to not fall and get leeches on my feet!
Terri Gaydon, '85

One day in early spring 1946, races were held at Lake Lag. As an overzealous freshman, I signed my name on the list labeled canoe gunneling. To gunnel a canoe, one must stand on the rails at the stern end of the canoe with knees bending up and down, and arms pumping forward and back, as the canoe lurches forward. The day of the race I saw my formidable opponent: a tall, well-built phys. ed. major. All went well as I kept the pace for the first 3/4 of the distance, at which time my legs gave out and I was painfully left behind. I learned that at Stanford you couldn't be just capable, you had to be the best.
Gene Hurley Kaula, '49

One of the things that I remember is a song that we used to sing called "Stanford in Spring." It went as follows: "When the moon's on Lagunita, and it's quiet on the Quad, when your heart sings a song, as you stroll along, that's Stanford in spring."
Harriet W. Coulson, '48, MA '55

Peter remembers sunbathing at the lake and watching the pretty girls. We both remember the fun Big Game bonfires. We only had two, as I recall, since there was no football team after the men went into the service. WWII broke out the semester we started.
Carol and Peter Polk, '45

I loved Hydro Follies in the spring! Favorite memories are a very exuberant water-balloon fight our senior year and watching the ill-fated Phi Kap milk-carton boat struggle to stay afloat.
Carolee Kolve, '67

I was in an aerobics class at the gym near Lake Lag when Loma Prieta hit in 1989. Of course, we didn't know what was happening—it sounded like elephants were jumping on the ceiling above us. Alarmed, we ran out of the building onto the lakeshore. The whole lake was moving up and down, back and forth, in one piece, not as waves. It was beautiful and scary all at once.
Julie Lindsey, '92

One of the most treasured memories of my first quarter at Stanford was huddling in Lake Lag's dry basin with 14 of my dormmates (and now closest friends) and taking in a 1 a.m. meteor shower. Incredible!
Julia Ishiyama, '13

In the spring of 1951, when I was Student Manager (which was then the Business Manager job of the ASSU) I appropriated funds to dump a truckload of sand on the south side of the boathouse. Thus was created a real beach for the sunners and swimmers to enjoy. It was dubbed "Elliott Beach" by a few of us, but the name soon faded away with the sand, which disappeared with the annual rise and fall of the lake.
David Elliott, '51

1970: My red-haired beau, scarf around his neck, picking me up at Lagunita for a quick ride around the Lake Lag path on his motorcycle in the dark.
Susan Wyle, '74, MA '76

Swimming across the lake in January. Brr. Not for the faint of heart, but kind of awesome.
Ruth Helfinstein, '86, MS '87

I got tired of the riding arena at the Stanford barn and took a friend to Lake Lag to ride his horse, Apple, during the fall of '98: A dry lake bed makes a great arena.
Alice Ganier Rolli, '01

January 1956: Several of us cut loose one of the marine life rafts next to the boathouse, put an MG-TF roadster on it, and pushed it into the middle of the lake. They never did figure out how we did it and had a hell of a time getting it off. That was my first step toward a career as an underwater archaeologist.
George Fischer, '59

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