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Beach School Walk

As the members of our Piedmont Recreation Department's Walking on Wednesdays

group assembled at the Exedra this Wednesday we talked about how fortunate

we are to live in this area with its wonderful climate. Dallas had had 31

days of over 100 degree weather with at least ten more 100+ days forecast.

St. Louis had nine inches of rain in 24 hours earlier in the week. Susan and

Jeff Callen had arrived at 2:30 AM that morning from Louisville, Kentucky.

They were once again visiting family in the area and with us. The Callens

could confirm that Piedmont's weather was better than what most the rest of

the country was experiencing.

There was a solid, summer turnout of 26 walkers and one K-9 best on hand.

It was noted that Piedmont students will be going back to school the second

week of August. The campuses are closed to most people when school starts,

so we only had two Wednesdays to visit the schoolyards before the kids

return. It was decided we could go to Beach School and the streets around it

this week, and then Havens and Wildwood next Wednesday. We hadn't been to

the nearby streets of Greenbank, Lake, Nace, and Howard this year; so we

could walk them too, and also see some wonderful old homes on the way to


That was the plan, and off we went down Magnolia Avenue past the high

school. We went across the 300 block of El Cerrito Avenue and down Oakland

Avenue to the crosswalk at Latham Street. Walking regulars told the Callens

that this is the only "street" in Piedmont. All the other roadways are

"avenues," "drives," "ways," or something else. We continued on Oakland and

went down Greenbank Avenue. We passed a charming, old, yellow home with

white trim, a white picket fence, and a children's swing in the front yard.

A Zillow search revealed that this house was built in 1896.

We crossed Grand Avenue and continued up Greenbank to its corner with Lake

Avenue. Laura Goldman, who lives nearby, pointed out a home that has

recently been transformed from a small bungalow into a much larger home with

only the front door area the same as it was before. Lake Avenue would take

us directly to Beach School, but since we were in the neighborhood, we could

also see Nace and Howard Avenues before continuing on Lake to the school.

This section of Piedmont goes back to the city's early days. The streets,

Nace, Howard, and Lake, were are built around 1908. The oldest houses on

Nace are the 1910 "Gibson House" at 46 Nace and the 1911 "Govan House" at 18

Nace. Pat Keller, who lives on Nace, said her home was built about 1914. It

was reported the Gibsons were the original owners of the house at 46 Nace,

and that a now giant tree in front of the house was planted by the Gibson

father and his daughter sometime in the 1920s.

Walking down Howard we could see the back side of the Beach School, and

after a left turn on Lake we were soon in front of the school's current,

main entrance. There, drawing on research from Gail Lombardi's Piedmont

Historical Society and Meghan Bennett's History of Piedmont website, the

history of the school was shared.

Egbert Beach Elementary can tie its history back to the 1906 San Francisco

Earthquake. On that April 18 morning, thousands of people fled the City to

the East Bay. Many decided not to return to San Francisco, and Piedmont

grew ten times over the course of the next year. Piedmont was incorporated

the following year in September 1907. City leaders decided to build two

schools to serve the community. The city's first school, originally named

"The Bonita Avenue School" but later renamed after the land donor, Frank C.

Havens, opened in 1911.

The Bonita Avenue School quickly filled to capacity, and the Lake Avenue

School was built in 1913. At the Lake School, four teachers taught 100

students in six grades. In 1918, the school was renamed the "Egbert W.

Beach School" in honor of Egbert William Beach, who was the first Piedmonter

killed in World War I.

The rapid growth of the city from 1920 to 1930 created school housing needs

that could not be met with current school funds. The entire enrollment at

Beach was housed then in portables. At Wildwood and Havens, approximately a

third of the students were taught in cramped, wooden schoolrooms that the

locals called "shacks." In 1933 the Beach School original buildings were

condemned as a firetrap and an earthquake menace, and torn down in 1934.

Beach School was replaced in two separate Works Progress Administration

(WPA) projects. The main wing was built in 1936, and the

auditorium/classroom wing was added in 1940. It was an entire new building

of eight classrooms, kindergarten, administrative unit, library, health room

and auditorium. This reconstruction was part of the FDR New Deal program's

larger effort to upgrade almost 300 California schools. In Piedmont, the

WPA built a total of 28 new earthquake-ready classrooms at Beach, Havens,

Wildwood, and Piedmont High School.

In the early 2000s, as part of city-wide seismic facility upgrades, Beach

hosted some of the Havens students for the 2009-10 school year while Havens

was rebuilt. During the following 2010-11 year, Wildwood students shared

Beach's campus when they had construction. In 2011-12, when Beach had its

turn for renovations, the school temporarily relocated to Emeryville with

school buses shuttling Piedmont students to and from Emeryville. In the fall

of 2012, Egbert W. Beach School re-opened its campus. The updated facilities

included two new classrooms, new outdoor/playground facilities, an edible

garden, and seismic upgrades.

After sharing all this history, Pat Keller was able to find an unlocked gate

at the Linda Avenue side of the school. We went through it and saw an old

entrance to the school where we took the attached group photo on its steps.

We then walked through the playground past a Schoolmates building where

many, very young people, wearing yellow vests for easy instructor eye

following, were playing outside. Behind the build there were more young

people playing, and further down, on the Linda Playfield, there was a horde

of larger young people enjoying a Rec Department summer camp. We tried to

exit the playfield through gates at both Linda and Howard, but they were

locked; so the camp counselors let us pass through the playfield to get out

on Linda Avenue. Then it was down Linda to Grand Avenue, and a walk to and

up Fairview Avenue. We took its lower section to a very hidden pathway that

took us down to Nova and Magnolia Avenues for our climb back up the hill to

the Exedra.

The overcast had burned off and the temperature was starting to rise. Some

of us might have thought it was getting warm, but the Callens probably

didn't. They and any of our east-of-the-Rockies friends and family members

would have agreed that it was a beautiful morning with us seeing

interesting, historical parts of Piedmont with Wednesday walking friends.

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