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Alta Piedmont and Heights development

In 2023 our Piedmont Recreation Department's Walking on Wednesdays group lived a charmed weather life. It never rained on Wednesday mornings. However, January 2024 was different, and the threat of rain had to be part of our walk planning. Last Wednesday an atmosphere river was forecast for later in the day, but there appeared to be a morning window with just a few light showers. It was an opportunity for us to live up to our "we walk rain or shine" mantra, and 21 walkers with umbrellas were at the Exedra to enjoy whatever happened.

A planned walking tour by Will Adams of Mediterranean Style Architecture in Piedmont was postponed a week for a better weather day. There was a set of easily accessible streets that would provide us with a fast return to the Exedra if the weather got messy. They are Pala, Mesa, and Monte Avenues, just above Highland Avenue. We might also take the steps between Pala and

Scenic Avenue up to Scenic to see the views and clouds.

However, before we got started there was a different, fun opportunity. Long-time walker Christine C retired in December and is returning to her native Granada, but she is visiting family in New York before she goes. Christine had called me and left a voicemail, so while we were assembling we returned her call and again wished her well.

We then went up Highland Avenue, turned up Oakland Avenue, and stopped in front of the house on the corner. This area above Oakland Avenue was a bit of bohemian neighborhood in the early 20th Century. Writers and painters like Jack London and Xavier Martinez lived there in some unique homes. However, before them Frank C. Havens and his nephew, George Sterling, were

residents in the area.

This house at the corner was built in 1898 and might have been an early office for Havens, who was a local real estate developer in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. He partnered with Francis "Borax" Smith, a businessman who made his fortune in borax mining, to create the Realty

Syndicate in 1895, and they developed many of Oakland and Piedmont's neighborhoods. Interestingly, both Havens and Sterling married their secretaries, and Sterling and his wife lived two houses up from this corner.

The house at Highland and Oakland has a wonderful late 19th/early 20th Century look with gables of different sizes and a witch cap roof in the front. Many of the homes in this neighborhood were built soon after the San Francisco Earthquake. After Piedmont became a city in 1907 home construction boomed. These streets were part of Wickham Havens' (Frank's son) Alta Piedmont Track and Alta Heights development. We wondered if Havens' "Alta Piedmont" resulted in the later references to "Baja Piedmont" for the streets below Highland.

On a past walk of these streets it was asked why there are palm trees around Piedmont, other than on Palm Drive. Gail Lombardi, president of the Piedmont Historical Society, responded that Wickham Havens was fond of palm trees, and he planted them as street trees. He planted young ones along the streets of his Alta Tract and they continued to grow into the 1940s or 1950s when

they were replaced by the current trees. Wickham also planted palms as street trees on the last two blocks of today's Wildwood Avenue. Wickham Havens' home was on the northwest corner of Wildwood and Sheridan Avenues, and was replaced by four mid-century houses.

We continued on and made a left turn on the one-block Hardwick Avenue. We went up the short, but steep Langdon Court cul-de-sac to enjoy our first cloudy view of San Francisco. We returned to Hardwick and then down Blair Avenue back to Highland to start our climb up Pala. At its corner with Masa a "Kids at Play" street cone seemed an appropriate prop for a group photo.

We went down Mesa, enjoying more great homes, including some with classic cedar shake shingle exteriors. At Moraga Avenue we went up it to, and then down Monte back to Pala. The homes along the way were built from 1906 to 1960.

We went up Pala to the Scenic Pala Steps, and climbed its 161 feet long stairs. At the top we couldn't resist going up Scenic a short distance to a turn in the street and enjoying the expansive views of the Bay and Mountain View Cemetery. An about-face took us back down Scenic to more wonderful, cloudy San Francisco views and Blair Avenue. Going down Blair we quickly came to the house in which Jack London wrote his classic Call of the Wild. A closer look at the house found a fun, small street sign on a side gate that reads, "City of London Museum."

At this point, we didn't push our weather-luck any further. We made our way directly down Blair to Highland and the Exedra before the sprinkles turned into the forecasted shower. It had been a fun, two mile walk with wonderful homes, history, views, and friends on an only little-wet Wednesday morning.


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