The drought that we are experiencing certainly is troubling, but it has provided wonderful walking weather for the Piedmont Recreation Department’s Walking on Wednesday’s group. This past Wednesday was a case in point. Eleven members of the group were at the Exedra on a sunny, clear morning to enjoy the day and a walk together.
The group enjoys learning Piedmont history and also seeing its parks and recreational facilities. Coaches' Field with the Kennelly Skate Park right above, as well as the Moraga Avenue area around them, offer both; and the group decided make them the destinations for the day.
Reading from a past Gail Lombardi History of Piedmont article in the Post, the group learned that this Moraga Avenue section of Piedmont has a long and rich history, starting with the original “Blair Park.” This historic Blair Park is not to be confused with the open area “Blair Park” that is further up Moraga Avenue and has been the subject of recent development conflicts.
The original Blair Park was the creation of Walter Blair, a successful dairyman, quarryman, and land owner. In 1878 Blair decided to build a horsecar line from the gates of the Mountain View Cemetery through his grain fields up Vernal (now Highland) Avenue to the Piedmont Springs Hotel, which is where the Piedmont Park and the Exedra are today. To increase the number of passengers on his Piedmont Railway, Blair built Blair Park as a picnic park on 40 acres of his land between the cemetery and Moraga Road, and opened it in 1884. The park’s arch entrance was at what is now the corner of Highland and Moraga Avenues. Park 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.
The park had financial difficulties almost immediately, but continued to be operated until 1905 when operations seem to have ceased. In the following years parts of the park’s land were sold to the cemetery and developers; and in the 1920s the City of Piedmont bought the eastern portion of the park for its Corporation Yard. Over the next decades the nearby canyon was partially filled and eventually provided the site for today’s Coaches Field. Dick Carter said he remembered the site being “a city dump” during his 1950s childhood years in Piedmont.
The walkers headed off to Coaches Field going down the west side of Highland Avenue passing homes with well-maintained front yards with lots of different flowers in bloom. It was asked what one pretty blue flower was and Harriette Louie knew immediately. She said they were cornflowers and this type of flower once upon a time had been part of her wedding bouquet.
The group crossed Moraga Avenue and immediately stopped in front of the home where the arched entrance to Blair Park once was and took a long look at the area behind it. As they continued up Moraga to Coaches Field the walkers also made a point of looking at the homes and the backyards on what was once the edge of the park. The lots fall off quickly, but then are commonly level for distances up to 300 feet. These were the areas where some of Blair Park’s attractions would have been. Many of the walkers said that they had driven up and down Moraga Avenue thousands of times, but had never walked this walk, or looked carefully at the homes and their deep yards.
Coaches Field has a grassy play field that opened in 1993 and is frequently used by local youth soccer and softball teams, but this morning a group of adult ultimate Frisbee players were making good use of the eastern portion of the field. One member of the friendly group took the attached group photo of the walkers in front of the field’s dedication plaque.
The group went along the backside of the field to a locked gate that is the entrance to the Kennelly Skate Park. It was opened in 2001 and named after the Kennelly family who made a donation towards its construction. The Skate Park is located up a flight of steps behind the softball field. The walkers had been able to get a key for the lock from the Recreation Department, and made their way up stairs to the park’s concrete ramps and bowls. Most of the walkers had never been to the skate park and were taken back by the depth of the bowls. There were no takers to the idea of boarding up and down the bowls that are clearly meant for a younger population. The walkers were more open to siting down on the concrete wall at the back of the park and looking for an opening in the trees that hide most of a wonderful San Francisco view.
The group said they could spend the afternoon up there in the warm sun, if beverages were available and pizza could be ordered in, but that was not possible and it was time to get back to the Exedra. They went by the same route that they had come. It was a leisurely, less than two mile walk and stair climb over about an hour and forty minutes. Many walkers saw parts of Piedmont for the first time, and they agreed that these places can only be fully seen and appreciated by walking the beautiful streets of Piedmont.