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 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.