The members of the Piedmont Recreation Department’s Walk- ing on Wednesdays group enjoy walking to seldom seen places in Piedmont. The hidden pathways and stairs around the city pro- vide this opportunity. On a recent walk, the group had experienced the short 89-foot path between Piedmont Court and Mountain Avenue. This past Wednesday, May 19, they were interested in seeing more similar paths.
Twelve members of the group assembled at the Exedra on a mild morning.
The group was up for a bit of a challenge. They learned from a summary in a past issue of Gail Lombardi’s Piedmont Historical Society magazine that there are 21 paths in Piedmont, the longest of which is the 281-foot set of stairs that links Scenic and Blair Avenues. In fact, there are two other stair pathways on Scenic; two fewer than St. James which has the most in the city with four stairway paths. Strong winds the night before had helped clean the air, so the walkers thought the views of Oakland, the Bay, and San Francisco would be good from Scenic Avenue, an appropriate name.
The group departed from the Exedra on Highland Avenue to Pala Avenue and up to Mesa Avenue. The group has an informal objective of walking every safe Piedmont street during the year. Going on Mesa to Moraga, then back on Monte Avenue one block away allowed the walkers to color in a set of streets on their Piedmont map. The route allowed them to see the lovely homes on these streets, and they particularly liked a beautiful Victorian on Mesa and what they believe is a Julia Morgan designed home on Pala.
At the top of Pala they found the 161-foot set of stairs connecting the street with Scenic Avenue, a fairly steep climb, but the group took their time and emerged on Scenic. It was noted that Scenic is a historic Piedmont street. In the early 20th century it was a bit of a Piedmont bohemian district with artists and writers like early California painter Xavier Martinez and author Jack London. London wrote the classic Call of the Wild in 1903 in a house on Blair Avenue near Scenic.
The group followed Scenic to a place where it turns 90 degrees and continues up the hill. An open spot affords a wonderful view of the Bay, Moraga Canyon, and Mountain View Cemetery far below. While stopping for a group photo, the walkers got to meet neighbor Roger Eliassen who had just arrived home. He and Dick Carter exchanged some friendly banter. Roger’s next door neighbor, Dara Birnbaum, who has joined the Wednesday group for several walks, came outside to greet the walkers.
At the intersection of Scenic and Alta Avenues the group noted a large fir tree in the middle of the street, which creates a round- about of sorts. They took Alta up to where it connects with Scenic. Along the hilly walk, everyone got to enjoy seeing rhododendrons, bottle brush, and other plants and flowers.
The walkers then searched for the city’s longest set of stairs, and thanks to a neighbor, found the 281-foot set of steep stairs with no end in sight and were happy there was a handrail its entire length. The group came out on Blair Avenue, crossed over to Pacific Avenue and down to its intersection with Mountain and Craig Avenues. One of the very first homes built in Piedmont is on Craig Avenue, the former home of Hugh Craig, Piedmont’s first mayor. It was originally built in 1879 on Vernal Avenue (now Highland Avenue). The house was moved in 1912 using tree logs as a rolling cushion and pulled by horses to its current location. It was a beautiful home then and still is now.
The walkers completed their walk going down Mountain past the Piedmont Community Church, returning to Highland Avenue and the Community Hall parking lot. It had been a lei- surely, one-hour walk on a lovely morning with beautiful views from Scenic Avenue and a chance to learn more about Piedmont’s history.