In the two years the Walking on Wednesdays group has been in existence, one thing has become very clear: the walkers enjoy learning about the history of Piedmont. The focus last week, March 4, was Blair Park as it was originally created It was another strong turnout on a beautiful day with 33 walkers.
The group was joined at the Exedra by Sgt. Catherine Carr as is the custom on the first week of the month. She introduced the group to two dispatchers, Sabrina Bell and Rachel Perez, who briefly described the work they do fielding calls from throughout the city.
One of the standby favorite questions they are asked in early July is, favorite "What time does the parade start?"
Fortunately, it is not asking for the date of the 4th of July Parade. The original Blair Park was the creation of Walter Blair in 1884 and not at the current site on Moraga Avenue. Drawing again on Gail Lombardi's Piedmont Historical Society articles, the group learned the park's history. Walter Blair was a successful dairyman, quarryman, and extensive landowner. He also partnered with investors to build a horsecar line from downtown Oakland to Piedmont Avenue. In 1878 he decided to build his own line.
His Piedmont Railway ran from where the Piedmont Avenue line ended and went from the gates of the Mountain View Cemetery through Blair's grain fields to Vernal Avenue (now Highland Avenue), and on to the Piedmont Springs Hotel, which is now Piedmont Park. To increase the number of riders (700-800 each week, and 5,000-7,000 each month in the summer of 1882). he created Blair Park. It was an attraction were families could "spend a pleasant day rambling
in the country" Blair developed 40 acres of his land between the Mountain View Cemetery and Moraga Avenue as a picnic park. The park offered picnic tables, a bandstand, swings, bridges over waterfalls and a stream. a fountain, and a lake.
After Blair died in 1888 the park was purchased in 1890 by the Consolidated Piedmont Cable Company that operated a cable car up Oakland Avenue. In 1892 electric cars trolleys were replacing cable cars and competing for riders. Building the cable line was expense, and the Piedmont Cable Company went into receivership in 1893. Its assets were sold at auction in 1895.
Blair's heirs owned the park land, but by 1897 all of Blair's 235 acres, including Blair Park, were for sale. In 1901 the Cable Company abandoned the park and did not open it that spring. By 1902 Frank C. Havens' land development syndicate owned the park land. Through these years Blair Park continued to operate, but by 1903 it was called "Oakland Park" because the Blair family no longer owned it.
By 1905 the park was no longer on city directories. In 1913 the land was still vacant, and in 1917 new homes began to be built on the land. Builder Guy Turner built the 11 bungalows on the north (cemetery) side of Moraga Avenue and at least six more in 1922 When the park was created in 1884 there was a "Blair Park" entrance arch at the corner of what is now Highland and Moraga Avenues. The walkers head- ed down Highland to see where the entrance arch once was. Go- ing down Moraga they looked at the homes along the way and the cemetery's high wall. At the corner of Moraga and Monticello Avenues, the walkers could see an elk statue on the other side of the wall that marks the grave of a former Elk's Club member. Stopping at Dracena Park they visited the tot lot and walked the loop in Dracena Quarry.
On the way back, most of the walkers couldn't resist a walk through the Dracena Park's beautiful redwood grove to the upper park, then onto Blair Avenue, and up to Hillside Avenue past homes with lovely flowers in front yards.