The warm weather Piedmont had been experiencing last week didn’t seem to matter to the Piedmont Recreation Department’s Walking on Wednesdays walkers on Wednesday. Another large turnout of 32 members of the group and one K-9 best friend were at the Exedra at their normal walk start time for another walk of Piedmont streets.
Activity leader Dick Carter, who had missed the previous Wednesday walk because of a family event, thanked Harriette Louie for leading the walk with Albert Chen’s assistance. Dick also told the group about two walking events that walker Shari Fujii had told him about. The first is the PUSD Wellness Center Support Committee’s Walk for Wellness that funds their program’s Piedmont High and Middle School student physical, mental, and emotional wellness efforts. More information is available at PiedmontWalkforWellness.org. The second is Piedmont Connect’s tour of Piedmont street-front gardens that feature drought-tolerant and native landscaping styles. The locations of the homes and gardens are available at https://www.piedmontconnect.org/. The tour is self-guided, free, and open for public, but Hope Salzer of Piedmont Connect is planning on being with the Wednesday walkers this Wednesday, September 29th, to take them to see some of the gardens.
With these announcements completed, it was decided that the Glen Alpine/Sotelo Avenues loop would be an interesting destination for the day. These two connected streets have some of Piedmont’s largest, most beautiful, and also historic homes. However, there is some elevation with walking these streets; but another nice aspect of this destination is that, for walkers who prefer not to have a steep climb, Hampton Park and Field are just around the corner and are a great destination too.
The history of the land of Glen Alpine/Sotelo Avenues loop goes back to the early twentieth century. Drawing on Gail Lombardi’s Piedmont Historical Society research, the group learned that in 1911 Louis Titus, a successful Berkeley real estate developer bought 50 acres in these Piedmont hills. He intended to build a Spanish-Italian mansion to be called “Greenacres” on them. However, in 1912 Mayor Hugh Craig and the city’s Board of Trustees, now called the City Council, decided that new property taxes were needed to pay for the new city’s police, fire, street paving and other public services. They passed new taxes based on the amount of land owned, and Titus’ taxes were increased to a reported $200,000. He decided Piedmont was not such a great place for this mansion and moved on. Greenacres was never built.
Next up in the history of this part of Piedmont is James Tyson, a wealthy lumber and shipping businessman. In 1914 Tyson purchased 30 acres from Titus’ tract to build his estate, which he named “Oakmont,” at what is now 70 Sotelo. He also build a carriage house as a garage and servant quarters where he and his wife could live temporarily while supervising the construction of their new home. This carriage house is now a lovely home at 45 Glen Alpine. However, the Oakmont mansion no longer exists. It was demolished in 1964.
The group went off in search of these historical sites, up Highland Avenue in a long, parade-like line. Not far up the street, women in a passing car recognized the group and enthusiastically honked and waved. Crossing streets is sometimes an exercise in crowd and traffic control with a group this size. Breaking the walkers into two subgroups at stop signs is the courteous thing to do, and also keeps drivers in stopped cars from being less enthusiastic about seeing the long line of Wednesday walkers.
On this first full day of fall, the group went down Highland to Wildwood Avenue and started up it. The trees on this lovely, tree-lined street were starting to turn color. However, it seems the lack of rain this year has them more red-brown than red. The walkers went through the Hall Fenway to Crocker Avenue and then up Hampton Avenue to the base of the Glen Alpine/Sotelo Avenues loop. There they decided who was going to make the climb and who would go to Hampton Park.
The walkers started the loop going up Glen Alpine. As they went they looked for a 12,000 square foot mansion that is on the market for just under $12,000,000. The group decided to pass on going down and up the even steeper, dead-end Indian Gulch Road cul-de-sac, which runs off of Glen Alpine. Near the top of Glen Alpine they came upon the construction of a new, large, modern house that will soon be the latest grand addition to this loop.
At the very top of Glen Alpine is a very large, and beautiful mansion. The walkers didn’t know its history, but they admired it. Just to the left of it are Tyson’s original, two sandstone pillars with the words, “Oakmont” and “70 Sotelo” on them. They formerly marked the entrance to the long driveway to Tyson’s now-gone mansion, which he completed in 1916. The gated driveway now leads to new homes built on the former Oakmont site.
The walkers continued down Sotelo, back to Hampton Road. As they went they were able to get a peak of Tyson Lake through the backyards of homes along the way. This lake was another Tyson creation. After he build Oakmont he dammed the small creek that ran through his property and created this reservoir. It is now owned and managed by a neighborhood association.
The temperature was rising and the walk was taking a little longer than usual. It was time for the group to check on walkers who took the Hampton Park alternative and retrace their steps back to the Exedra. It was a little over three mile, one hour and forty-five minute walk that seemed to please everyone on a lovely, warm day with lots of Walking on Wednesdays friends.