It was a lovely, cool winter morning in Piedmont this Wednesday. After the recent rains it seemed the entire city was ready to go for a walk. It almost looked like that when our Piedmont Recreation Department’s Walking onWednesdays group gathered at the Exedra at our regular, weekly time. There was a near record turnout for a regular Wednesday walk of 50 walkers and five K-9 best friends.
It was a great morning for a walk not just because of the weather, but also because Charlene L with Priscilla W’s assistance was going to lead us down to Dracena Park. Charlene was going to share some history about the park that she had researched from the HistoryofPiedmont.com website, and other sources.
However, before the walk started there were announcements. Fifteen of us had gone to Phil Witte’s cartoon art exhibition at the Piedmont Center for theArts last Friday, and had a great time. Phil’s art is going to be up for two more weekends. Next, Sherry Jacobs encouraged us to participate in theOakland Museum of California’s 2023 White Elephant Sale that will be
happening in February and March. Information is available atwhiteelephantsale.org.
With the announcements completed, Charlene started us down Magnolia Avenue to take a look at where construction of the new Piedmont Pool AquaticsCenter is about to start near the old Piedmont Pool. A workman was in front of the Carriage House organizing a large batch of NO PARKING signs, and he told us that demolition of the old building was going to start soon.
We continued on, going up Hillside Avenue past the Rec Center. Further up was one of the native garden front yards that Hope Salzer had taken us to last year. We crossed Oakland Avenue at the stoplight, and went on to and down Blair Avenue, the street is named after Walter Blair, the firstEuropean settler in the area.
We came to the corner of Blair and El Cerrito Avenues, where Blair once had a dairy farm. This was also the edge of a quarry he created. Charlene stopped us along El Cerrito to look down into Dracena Park to appreciate how deep and steep the digging had been. Charlene also had a historic photo and map of the quarry that she passed around.
We entered at the bottom of the park where there is a bench in memory ofRalston Louie, a Piedmont High Class of 2010 alum, who died tragically in2021. Across from the bench is a large tree and an open area. It was lovely, so we took a group photo there.
We went up a concrete path to the park’s Tot Lot, where some young people were putting it to good use. There, Charlene told more of the park’s history. Originally, this land was a part of the 8,000 acres that Blair bought. The property was quarried in 1852 for stone that was used to pave
Oakland and Piedmont’s early streets and railways. In 1873, a quarry crew, which consisted mainly of Chinese laborers, struck water from a subterranean creek. It turned the bottom of the quarry into a lake, some 60 feet deep.Attempts to pump out the water failed and the lake remained. It turned into a swimming hole for Piedmont boys, and sadly there were at least 12drownings in 20 years. Finally, the quarry was fenced and locked for more than forty years, and there was a lake, called “Blair’s Pond,” complete with ducks, until at least 1977.
In 1976, two alternatives were presented by the City to the citizens for this area. There could either be a passive recreation with the existing pond, or an active recreational grassy field by draining the pond. The second alternative was picked. Later around the turn of the 21st Century, the tot lot play area was renovated with citizens’ input, including from children. The kids wanted a climbing wall and swings, while the adults wanted restrooms. Funds were raised for both, and the project was completed in 2006.
Charlene then took us over to the park’s lower entrance on the left. The K-9best friends were let loose to run on the path and through the beautiful grove of redwood trees. We stopped at a plaque for Storyteller Bridge, which looms above the path. Charlene also told its history. It was built in 2013and 14 as Cole Becker’s Eagle Scout project. It replaced a bridge that builtin the 1920’s which crossed the ravine and a creek bed. This bridge was demolished in the early 1960’s after it had fallen into disrepair. The creek is now gone, too. The water is either under grounded or dried up, and Charlene said there has not been a creek there since at least 1990 when she moved toPiedmont.
We continued up the path past more huge trees, these eucalyptus, and circled back to walk over Storyteller Bridge. Charlene said someone took an ax to its wood posts and crossbars a few years ago, and now the posts are covered by copper caps. You can still see some of the nicks in the railings.
At the top of the park on Dracena Avenue Priscilla took over forCharlene and led us down Dracena to Blair Avenue. Along the way we looked for a child’s “Fairy Garden” in front of a home and Disney “Frozen”characters stenciled on the sidewalk. At Blair Avenue we retraced our steps back to Hillside and Magnolia Avenues to the Exedra. The temperature started to rise and we experienced something we hadn’t for a while, being warm on aWednesday walk. At the conclusion of this little over an hour walk we expressed our thanks to Charlene and Priscilla for taking us on an enjoyable tour of one of Piedmont’s most beautiful parks and sharing its history.