It felt a little like Piedmont winter last Wednesday when the Piedmont Recreation Department’s Walking on Wednesdays group met at the Exedra. The sky was blanketed with clouds and earlier in the morning there had been some mist, but the weather app on phones said the walkers would be fine. The weather did not deter the group. A solid turnout of 25 walkers and one K-9 best friend were on hand.
While rain was not expected during this walk, when the walkers assembled it was noted that the group walks “rain or shine.” This consistency eliminates any potential confusion about whether or not it’s raining too much for a walk. Additionally, a Walking on Wednesdays walk is a great excuse to get outside and have some fun on rainy day.
The group got a late start this year walking every safe street in Piedmont during the year. They could not walk together until April because of pandemic restrictions, but the group has done a great job checking off Piedmont streets since then. There are only a few Piedmont streets they have not gotten to, but the little-traveled gem of Bellevue Avenue is one of them.
Bellevue lives up to its French name, "beautiful view," but it could also be named “Belles Maisons” for its beautiful homes. Bellevue is tucked inside the half loop of Mountain Avenue and there is usually no reason go up or down it, unless you live there; or are a Wednesday walker. So, it was decided that Bellevue and the also beautiful streets around it would be the group’s destination for the morning.
People usually get to Bellevue via Mountain Avenue, and there is a good reason for that street’s name. Additionally, to have a view you usually have to be up high, so there was some climbing associated with going to these streets. But the group has taken a number of up and down hill walks recently, and they were ready for another challenge.
The walkers crossed Highland Avenue and started up Mountain, but took a quick turn up the long Pacific Avenue. This street takes a steep assent up the Piedmont mountain and also a couple of hard right turns on its way to Bellevue. The group started down Bellevue and longtime walkers were interested in checking out a home that was just starting to be rebuilt when they last walked the street in 2019. It was there on the right side of the street. It had been beautifully transformed and is almost complete. The walkers took a group photo in front of the house.
A little further down the street was another large home. The gate in front of it was open and the house, the front yard with a majestic oak tree, and a great view of San Francisco were on display for the walkers. Piedmont High alum Sherry Jacobs told the group she had long ago gone to a reunion of the PHS Bird Callers at the house, and had broken the heal of a high heal shoe on the driveway.
At the foot of Bellevue at Sea View Avenue the group noted the tall sequoia in the middle of the street that some say was planted and/or watered long ago by a Chinese cook who worked at one of the nearby homes. Others say it was Piedmont’s first community Christmas tree. When there is historic uncertainty, the walkers enjoy the fun of choosing or making up whatever story is most appealing to them.
The walkers reconnected with Mountain Avenue, and as they continued on, they noted holiday house decorations were just starting to be put up. A large inflatable Santa with his helpers was lying down on the job, probably saving up his energy for later evening celebrations.
At the top of Mountain, where it meets Hager and Blair Avenues, the walkers stopped to enjoy the vast view of Oakland, the Bay, and San Francisco. The group usually makes the climb to these higher Piedmont elevations to see the views on a clear day. However, the heavy clouds were high in the sky and did not obstruct what the walkers could see. In fact, they added another dimension that made the view even more powerful.
Continuing on to Bell Avenue provided more wonderful Bay viewing. Siow Fang Tan checked her phone app and said the elevation was 626 feet. The group also noted a striking, modern designed home on the upside of the street. Former Piedmont Planning Commissioner Mike Henn said it was a 2010 remodel of a home in need of repair.
The great views kept coming as the group continued down Scenic Avenue. Along the way, Dave DeRoche shared some stories of this historic part of Piedmont. He said that Xavier Martínez, a California artist of the late 19th and early 20th century and a well-known bohemian figure in San Francisco and the East Bay, lived and painted on the street. Even more interesting was Dave’s story that Jack London lived here with his second wife, and that he bought a house for his first wife and child just up the street. He also wrote one of his greatest works, The Call of the Wild, in a house on Blair Avenue that the group passed on their way down the hill to Highland Avenue and back to the Exedra.
As the walkers made their way down Highland, a light mist moistened their jackets, and reminded them that future walks may be a little more wintery and wet. However, no matter what the weather is, they know there will always be great streets, beautiful homes, interesting history, and good walking friends to share it all with on their Wednesday walks.