top of page

Blair and Coaches Field Skate and Park Walk

The weather the afternoon and night before were wild, but our Piedmont Recreation Department's Walking on Wednesdays group once again had just a cloudy morning for our weekly walk this Wednesday. There were 34 walkers and three of their K-9 best friends at the Exedra to enjoy the break in the rain and some time together.

The prior Wednesday we had discussed the history of Walter Blair, the first European settler in the hills that would become Piedmont. We walked the streets below Highland Avenue and discussed Blair's history, but not gone to the area above Highland to what is now Coaches Field. We could complete our remembrance of Walter Blair going to the field. We could also climb up to the William F. Kennelly Skate Park Skate Park, where people over 18 rarely go.

We first refreshed what we learned about Blair. He came to California in 1852 during the Gold Rush at the age of 22, and purchased 600 acres in the Piedmont hills for $750. It was most of the land between today's Moraga, Scenic, Magnolia, and Grand Avenues on which he had grain fields, a dairy, and a quarry. He also constructed the Piedmont Springs Hotel in 1872 where the Exedra is today, and built a horsecar trolley line which ran from the gates of the Mountain View Cemetery through his fields to Vernal (now Highland) Avenue and his hotel.

To increase the number of riders, in 1884 Blair developed 40 acres of the land between the cemetery and Moraga Avenue as a picnic park with many attractions, and named it "Blair Park." Many of these picnickers and hotel guests enjoyed the area, purchased land, built homes, and became Piedmont's early residents. This historic Blair Park is not the current "Blair Park" further up Moraga that has been the subject of development discussions.

We headed off to Coaches Field going down the west side of Highland Avenue, and passed the site of Blair's original cabin at 111 Highland Avenue where a modern home is today. At the stop light on the corner of Highland and Moraga Avenues, we crossed Moraga to the spot where the park's arch entrance once was. The park's attractions included a stream with waterfalls, bridges, a

lake, a fountain, a Venetian canal, a bandstand, a Japanese Tea House, goat carts, a photo gallery, and swings. There were also hot air balloon ascensions and a young boy tragically fell to his death from one in 1897.

Blair's park had financial difficulties almost immediately. After he died in 1888, it continued to be operated, but seems to have closed in 1905. Parts of the park's land were sold to the Mt. View Cemetery and developers; and the City of Piedmont bought the eastern portion for its Corporation Yard in the 1920s. Over the next decades the nearby canyon was partially filled and eventually provided the land for today's Coaches Field. I remembered the site being "the city dump" during my 1950s childhood in Piedmont.

We crossed Moraga Avenue where the arched entrance to Blair Park once was, and made our way up the street passing homes that were built in the in the late 1910s and early 1920s. As we continued up Moraga we also looked behind the homes to the backyards that are on the edge of what was the old park. The lots fall off quickly, but then are often level for up to 300 feet. These were the areas of some of Blair Park's attractions.

We walked over the impressive boardwalk along Moraga that spans the edge of the canyon below. A creek in the canyon was more of a river, and a pond was more of a lake. Up Moraga a sign said the road was closed for tree work. We soon came to Coaches Field. This park was first dedicated in 1994, and in 2001, with the support of Piedmont native and Otis Spunkmeyer muffins founder Ken (Bebe) Rawlings, the sports field was created. It honors the many Piedmont coaches who have worked with the city's youth. The City Council-approved Coaches Field Expansion Concept Plan was discussed, but how it will be affected by the new City Housing Plan was unclear. Past Recreation Commissioner Vincent Fisher pointed out the newly constructed, very tall cell phone tower that will someday improve reception in the area.

We went along the backside of the field to a locked gate that is the entrance to the Kennelly Skate Park. It is located up a flight of steps behind the softball field. The park was opened in 2001 and named after the Kennelly family who made a donation for it. A Recreation Department-provided

key unlocked the padlock and we climbed the stairs. At the top of them, we admired the concrete ramps and deep bowls that much younger people fearlessly skate up and down. Vincent Fisher, who lives above the field on Abbott Way, shared his knowledge from work on a Recreation Commission Skate Park Subcommittee, and also his and his wife's late night experience with some well-mannered Piedmont boys who were making use of the upper park neighborhood for weekend refreshment.

We made our way back down the stairs to the parking lot and then Moraga Avenue. On the way back, most of us took a side trip up Blair Avenue to the seldom visited streets of Hardwick Avenue and Langdon Court and enjoyed the views of San Francisco. Once back at the Exedra a few walkers made another side trip to the top of the Piedmont Park and checked out the rushing waters of Bushy Dell Creek. In all, it had been a little over a two mile walk full of Piedmont history, parks, streets, and friends on a once again clear, no-rain Wednesday morning.


bottom of page