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Back to School Walk

Piedmont's schools would start up again the following week, so it was the last Wednesday this summer that our Piedmont Recreation Department's Walking on Wednesdays group would be able to walk freely on the school campuses. The week before we had gone to Beach School, but there was still Havens School, Piedmont High, Piedmont Middle School, Millennium High School, and Wildwood School to visit. There was also history about the schools to learn, so it was back to school for the Wednesday walkers last week.

It was a gorgeous summer morning and there was another great turn out for our Wednesday walk. Thirty five walkers and two K-9 best friends were on hand at the Exedra.

Before we started walking there were a couple of announcements. Piedmont Recreation Department supervisor Eva Phalen would like to develop more Rec volunteer-lead activities for older adults. One opportunity might be to create a bridge or other card groups, if someone is interested in leading them. Eva has another opportunity too. The Rec Department is looking to hire additional staff to help with both its preschool and afterschool programs. These are part-time, paid positions either in the morning or afternoon. They might be perfect for someone who is retired, or has a family member who has some free time.

Before walking to the schools, a refresher of what we had discussed the prior week was provided. The City of Piedmont was incorporated in September 1907, and since its population was growing dramatically after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, city leaders decided to build two schools to serve the community. The first school was built in 1910 and opened its doors in 1911.

It was originally named "The Bonita Avenue School," but was later renamed "Frank C. Havens Elementary School" after the land donor. "The Lake Avenue School" was built in 1913, and later renamed "Egbert Beach Elementary" after the first Piedmonter killed in World War I. There was more history, but it could be shared at the schools, so off we went up Highland with Havens as

our first destination.

We came to Havens' front entrance on Highland and the gate was unlocked, so we poured in. More Havens history was shared in the courtyard. The school was expanded under the New Deal in the 1930s. A new five-classroom wing and an auditorium were built on the eastern edge of the school grounds. There had been three previous efforts to replace temporary school buildings in

Piedmont in the 1920s because about one-third of Piedmont students were being taught in buildings that were derisively called "shacks" by the locals. However, all the school bond votes lost. After the school board gained a promise of funding from the Public Works Administration (PWA) in 1933, a new bond issue for $233,000 passed in December of that year. Work did not begin until 1936, and it appears that the school district ran out of money because it applied for additional support from the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA classrooms at Havens were built in 1937-38 and the auditorium was added in 1940-42. The auditorium was named in honor of Ellen Driscoll, who was Havens' first principal and taught at the school for

20 years. A new Havens School was built at the same school site in 1955. The 1910 school, which faced Bonita Avenue and was on the current playground area, was torn down. The new school held a kindergarten, 11 new classrooms, library, cafeteria, and administration wing. The New Deal classrooms and auditorium in the back remained. In 2010, the school was completely rebuilt

and the 1938 classrooms were demolished.

We found the gate at the end of the Havens courtyard was locked, as preparations and clean up for the start of school were going on, but the installation of new artificial turf for the playfield was complete. As we were looking at a mural in the courtyard, a nice school administrator came

out to see who/what the crowd was. When she was told we were the Rec Department's Wednesday walkers, she knew we were harmless and let us continue our visit. Fortunately for us the side door to the school's Ellen Driscoll Playhouse was open and we were able to see inside. Students participated in painting the ceilings of all the Piedmont school auditoriums. The theme at Havens/Driscoll is California history, at Wildwood it is U.S. history, and at Beach it is literature. Fifth and sixth graders painted the panels in a paint-by-number fashion before they were applied to the ceiling.

We exited back on to Highland and went up to its corner with Oakland Avenue. We turned down it and went to Bonita Avenue. There we discussed the previous school buildings that were on the Havens campus, and where they had been.

We then went down Bonita to the high school and entered its campus. We went between the new classroom and auditorium buildings and admired the new space devoted to the high school's robotics program and team. We also admired the quad area in front of the student center and the library with a wonderful view of San Francisco. We talked about how the spaces had been used in the past, and it was remembered that the library area had once been a different open air quad where students also ate their lunches.

We walked behind the new classroom building and liked the solar panels on it. We saw the middle school, the "Binks" Rawlings Gym, and Millennium High School. Not many of the walkers knew much about Millennium, so information on it was shared. It is the Piedmont Unified School District's alternative high school and was opened in 1980. Piedmont resident Shannon Fierro has

been its principal since June 2017. The school has about 60 students in grades 9-12 with a student-teacher ratio of 11 to 1. Classes are small, with about 10 to 15 students per class. Students can work at their own pace, and there is more personal attention than in a normal public high school. Credit is earned according to how much students accomplish in class, and they may also earn credits for outside activities. Millennium is open to students outside Piedmont through interdistrict transfer. A fun fact is that George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars films, granted the school the right to use the image of the Millennium Falcon on a school sweatshirt, as well as to represent the school as its mascot, effectively creating the Millennium (High School) Falcon.

We made our way down the steep "PE Hill," and to and past Witter Field to a long, wooden ramp that leads up to Wildwood School. As we walked the ramp, a group of young people recognized us as "the Wednesday walkers." At the school's entrance we talked about its history and some of the walkers' personal experiences with the school. The earliest historical mentions of Wildwood School were found in an October 1923 Oakland Tribune real estate ad for a house "within block of new Wildwood school." From 1936 to 1940 four WPA projects were completed in all of Piedmont's schools, and Wildwood was expanded with the addition of new classroom buildings and an auditorium. In 1940, a newspaper reported, "With WPA aid the program calls for the construction of auditorium units at Havens and Wildwood Schools during the year..." The last temporary classroom was torn down at Wildwood School and its new auditorium was dedicated in 1942. Finally, in the period from 2009 to 2011, as part of city-wide seismic facility upgrades, Piedmont's first through fifth graders from all three schools took turns riding school buses to a rented Emeryville school while their schools were being rebuilt. Some walkers remembered being part of this experience. Sherry Jacobs, a one-time Wildwood student, also remembered student group pictures being taken in 1960 on the steps in front of the school entrance. So, this seemed like an

appropriate spot for us to take the attached group picture.

The school front doors and gates were locked, so we went down Wildwood Avenue to Winsor Avenue and up it to the entrance to the lower Wildwood playground. Its gate was unlocked and we went in. We saw a summer youth baseball camp with lots of future stars being conducted on the adjacent high school baseball field, and went through another unlocked gate past Witter Field to the lower entrance to Piedmont Park for our return to the city center.

We often walk through the park, but usually take the upper path. This time we took the lower path that goes along Bushy Dell Creek. We were pleasantly surprised there was still a little water in the creek, and were impressed with the size of some the eucalyptus trees along the way. The creek seems to provide a constant watering of them, and they have grown to be massive. The lower path also has some interesting historical makers, and is a little more picturesque than the upper path; but there are some stairs to climb to get up the Community Hall. This was not a problem for this group. We were able to take it all in stride after a fun day of going back to Piedmont's



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