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El Cerrito, Witter Field & Palm Drive

There was a good turnout of 36 walkers and three K-9 best friends at the Exedra last Wednesday when our Piedmont Recreation Department's Walking on Wednesdays group met for our weekly walk. Sherry J lives on Magnolia Avenue and was interested in a home at the corner of Magnolia and El Cerrito that she passes regularly. She did some research and got some information from the book Cottages & Castles: The Centennial Houses of the City of Piedmont, by Ann Swift. A book about houses in Piedmont when it became a city in 1907. There is a display copy at the reception desk in City Hall. Sherry's house of interest is in it, and was our first destination. We headed off, going down Magnolia past work being done on the new aquatics center and also an almost completely rebuilt home next to the house Sherry wanted to tell us about. This house was built in 1907 by Dr. Carl Schmidt, a bachelor doctor, as a wedding gift for his bride. It is a one and half story Craftsman style home with wide eaves and exposed rafter ends that were typical of this style. The Schmidts were married in 1908 and lived in the house until the 1940s. It was also reported there have only been three owners of the house. We took the attached photo in front of it. We then went down El Cerrito to Witter Field to see the work being done on it. Drainage trenches and pipes were being laid, and there were large mounds of dirt in the center of the field. According to a story in this week's Piedmont Post, completion of the project has been delayed until January primarily because of work to be done by EBMUD. The Witter Field site has a history too. Land developer Frank C. Havens created Piedmont Park in 1898 to continue to draw visitors and future residents to Piedmont. The main entrance to the park was at the current bus stop across from the Wells Fargo bank, but visitors could also access the park by a path from Grand Avenue on what is now Palm Drive. Havens also create in 1904 a large circular hedge maze as an attraction in the natural bowl where Witter Field stands today. Havens lined the lane to the "Maze" with palm trees. Some of them still survive on what is now Palm Drive. These majestic palms are over 125 years old, and are the last remaining ones. They are in the front yards of the homes, and not on City property. Sherry, who lives nearby, told us that some trees have been removed over the last few years because homeowners find it difficult to maintain them. We went back up El Cerrito to Jerome Avenue and then down Magnolia again to Park View. Along Park View there was a home with very large black spiders all over its exterior and a long line of crows along its roof line, all in place ready for Halloween. Then it was down the entire length of Palm Drive with the group admiring its beautiful, old trees along the way. We started our return by going up Wildwood Avenue, but couldn't resist climbing a newly discovered alley road to Warfield Avenue, and then Windsor and Wildwood Avenues. Along Wildwood, neighbors Nadine G and Sarah J told us the history of house between theirs. It is in need of serious TLC. A woman built the house in 1927 and lived in it for 30 years. Later her daughter and granddaughter lived there too, but it fell into disrepair. After the granddaughter died, it was vacate for many years until some squatters took up residence with the intent of living in it long enough to claim it. They even got drivers licenses with the house's address. However, they were discovered and removed. A relative is currently trying to get the house out of probate. After hearing this unexpected, additional house history, we made our way back to the Exedra via the Piedmont Park that Havens developed, completing a walk with some interesting homes and lots of Piedmont history.


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