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5th Anniversary Walk

A great turnout 53 walkers and four K-9 best friends were at the Exedra on Wednesday to celebrate our Piedmont Recreation Department's Walking on Wednesdays' fifth anniversary. A lot has happened since our first walk with 17 people on April 18, 2018. Covid made us take most of 2020 off, but we came back in 2021 and have grown even stronger. Today there are 184 registered members of to our group. To start the morning, a thank you was given to Jim Kellogg who last week took the group on an architectural tour of homes designed by noted early 20th Century architects. There was a thank you to Charlene Louie and Priscilla Wanerus. They had worked with the Recreation Department's Eva Phalen and Ivy Sandoval to organize a post-walk brown bag lunch at the Tea House in Piedmont Park. There was another thank you too. On our first walk Gail Lombardi, president of the Piedmont Historical Society, provided a tour of historical buildings in the center of Piedmont. Gail wasn't able to be with us on Wednesday, but her research contained in Piedmont Post articles had provided the information for many walks. It seemed appropriate on this anniversary to recognize her and take a tour based on her work. Five of Gail's articles on Piedmont Park provided historical content for this day's tour. It started with recalling that Walter Blair, the first European settler in the area, bought 600 acres in what is now Piedmont in 1852 for $750, and that an Isaac Holmes discovered a mineral springs in the Park's Bushy Dell Creek about this time. The entrepreneurial Blair built horse trolley lines from Oakland to the Piedmont Springs Hotel that he and investors build in 1872 on an additional 350 acres. They selected the name "Piedmont," meaning "foot of the hills." We were standing on the hotel site at the Exedra. Blair died in 1888 at the young age of 57, which spared him seeing his hotel burn to the ground in 1892. Land developer Frank C. Havens entered the scene about this time and decided the mineral springs would be a great attraction for potential land buyers, and he began developing Piedmont Park. We went down Highland Avenue to the bus stop across from the Wells Fargo Bank. This was where Havens built a first-class dining room in 1898. He also cleared the vegetation in the ravine below and created a Victorian strolling park with a Japanese Tea House, built as replica of a 15th Century one in Kyoto. We made our way to where the Tea House is today. It's not the original one, but rather one moved in 1976 from where the Piedmont Middle School was being built. We went on to the Park's tennis courts. Havens built his Piedmont Art Gallery with a collection of 375 paintings on this spot. It was one of the finest collection in the country. From there we continued down to the park's lower trail along Bushy Dell Creek. We passed Havens' "Cascades" to a grotto where Mark Twain once sampled the mineral springs in the 1860s. There's marker with a photo of Twain, and we took the attached group photo there. We continued on and emerged at the top of the steps that go down to today's Witter Field. In this natural bowl Havens created a large circular hedge maze attraction in 1904. Finally, it was shared that Havens got into financial difficulties, and by 1916 he was planning on developing the park for residential sites. However, the land went into foreclosure and the park was to be sold. The School Board wanted to buy 13 acres for a new high school and Piedmont philanthropist Wallace Alexander purchased another 14 acres for the park, for which the City later reimbursed him. This saved the park. With our park tour complete it was time to return to the Tea House for lunch. We went up Requa Road where we passed Gail Lombardi's home and gave her a virtual thank you for all the history she provided.


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