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Dracena and One Block Wonders

Our Piedmont Recreation Department's Walking on Wednesdays walkers knew the temperatures were going to be in the upper 80s later in the day last Wednesday. The Wednesday before had been the hottest day of the week too and walking Carmel and Waldo Avenues, two one-block streets, had been postponed. As 37 of us and four of our K-9 best friends assembled at the Exedra we hoped we could go to these streets, get some temperature relief in the nearby Dracena Park, and see more interesting things before it got too hot. Our first "one block wonder" destination was Carmel Avenue. We went down Magnolia Avenue past the site of the new aquatics center. There wasn't any work going on, but progress on retaining walls was evident. Then it was up Hillside Avenue, across Oakland Avenue at the stop light, down a block, and across Carmel. Towards the end of street architect, urban designer, and Piedmont Post columnist Will Adams told us he had recently written a Post column on the "contagious" landscape along Carmel. He pointed out the front yard of a home with an "Inca quality" stonework wall and drought tolerant landscaping. Will said it had inspired the homeowners next door to do a different, softer architectural treatment of their front wall. Will confessed he is the owner of the third next house, and to 'keep up with the neighbors," he had done front yard landscaping of his own. It was on to Blair Avenue, named after Walter Blair, the first European settler in what was to become Piedmont, and down El Cerrito Avenue to a set of stairs that took us into Dracena Park. This park land was once part of the 8,000 acres Walter Blair owned, and was quarried for stone starting in 1852. The material was used to pave Oakland and Piedmont streets and railways. In 1873, Blair's crew, consisting of Chinese workers, struck water from a subterranean creek which turned the bottom of the quarry into a lake some 60 feet deep. Attempts to pump out the water failed. Tragically, over the years there were at least 12 drownings in the lake. The quarry was finally fenced and locked for more than 40 years. The lake was called "Blair's Pond" with ducks until at least 1977. In 1976 citizens voted to create a recreational grassy field by draining the pond. Around the turn of the century, the tot lot was renovated, and funds were raised to provide swings, a climbing wall, and restrooms. This work was completed in 2006. Then it was time for a walk through the park's redwood grove, which originally was a creek bed, but is now an off-leash dog path. We passed under and then over Storyteller Bridge, where a plaque told us this replacement of the original Storyteller Bridge was Cole Becker's 2014 Eagle Scout project. We also walked parts of the pathways that loop through the park and were repaired in August to correct damage caused by last winter's storms and normal aging. We emerged from the park on Park Way and made our way up to Waldo Avenue, a second "one block wonder." This street was once the back of Walter Blair's house. It was also shared that Waldo is now one of the most popular Piedmont streets for Halloween treat seekers. Our long line of walkers went up Blair, crossed Highland Avenue, and continued up Blair to our third "one block wonder," Hardwick Avenue. The temperature was starting to rise, so we passed on walking the short Langdon Court cu-de-sac, and continued to Oakland, Highland, and Craig Avenues. However, there was one more interesting thing up Craig to see and walk. It is a "secret entrance" driveway to the back of the Piedmont Community Church. Jim Kellogg led us through a passageway to the church's courtyard, which had lots of red roses and a lovely fountain. It was a cool way to finish a walk filled with wonders on a warm Piedmont morning.


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