Last Wednesday was a cool, breezy morning for the Piedmont Recreation Department’s Walking on Wednesdays walkers. It was windy enough for a kite flyer to test his skills on the grass next to the Exedra as the walkers assembled there. The all-too-nice/no-rain winter weather brought out another large assembly of 38 walkers and one K-9 best friend.
The walkers enjoy finding and walking any of Piedmont’s at least 21 hidden pathways. Gail Lombardi, president of the Piedmont Historical Society, shared that with Piedmont’s large, irregular shaped blocks these paths have saved countless steps for students going to and from school, and commuters walking to the streetcar lines and bus stops. The importance of transportation and also these paths in the development of Piedmont is also evident from Gail’s research.
A primary economic driver of the area before and after the city was incorporated in 1907 has been real estate; and people’s ability to get to, around, and through the area has been vital in its development. In 1878 Walter Blair, the first European settler of the area, created a horse-drawn trolley car from the Mountain View cemetery entrance to his Blair Park along today’s Moraga Avenue and the Piedmont Springs Hotel where the Exedra is today. Visitors liked the area and bought land. Frank C. Havens, the area’s most impactful early real estate developer, partnered in 1895 with Francis Marion “Borax” Smith. They formed the "Realty Syndicate" which, among other things, built the Claremont Hotel and was originally the parent company of the Key System transit company. It operated in Piedmont, Oakland, the rest of the East Bay, as well as San Francisco; and it also brought land buyers to the area. However, homeowners wanted to be able to easily get to the Key System trains, and pathways were drawn into neighborhood master plans to accommodate them. Many of these paths are still serving Piedmonters today, and provide fun walks for the Walking on Wednesdays group.
The Key System’s 12 line went from today’s Jerome and Fairview Avenue down to Grand Avenue and then downtown Oakland. There are three hidden paths in this part of Piedmont that the walkers could search out and enjoy, as well as other streets with histories of their own, so they were the group’s destinations for the morning. Off the walkers went down Magnolia Avenue looking for a 246 foot path between the houses at 144 and 200 Magnolia. The parade of walkers got strung out as they went and they stopped at the Larmer Court cul-de-sac to regroup. This gave some in the lead the opportunity to explore this exclusive street that only has three homes with Larmer addresses.
The group continued on and found the path that took them down to Palm Drive with the palm trees that line parts of it. This was once Havens’ “Avenue of the Palms” grand entrance his Piedmont Park attraction with a hedge maze where Piedmont High’s Witter Field is today. The walkers admired the palms and continued on to where the street becomes Wildwood Avenue. They passed the triangular park with its redwood tree grove, and took a right on what was now curiously Nova Drive, not Magnolia Avenue. They went up three Nova houses to their second hidden path. This one is 249 feet long. It took them up to Fairview Avenue, the street that was once part of the Key System 12 route. Fairview has upper and lower streets that are separated by a long green space. This was once part of the Key System right-of-way land and the streets are connected by another path. The walkers took a group photo on it, and then admired a classic Victorian home on the upper side of the street. Phil Witte did quick Zillow research on his phone and told the group that it was built in 1896, has three bedrooms with one bath and 1,700 square feet.
The search for the day’s third hidden path was a little tricky. The walkers went up Fairview to Arbor Drive, down it to the circle where it intersects with Nova Drive, and continued up to 112 and 116 Arbor. Between these two homes is 110 foot path with some steep stairs that comes out on another cul-de-sac, MacKinnon Place. At its foot the group found Magnolia Avenue once again. A climb up Magnolia would have taken the walkers directly back to the Exedra, but there was still more time; and streets, paths, and sights to see. They went down Park View, past the top of Palm Drive where they could see the net of the high school baseball field high on their left.
A right turn on Winsor Avenue and a left on Wildwood Avenue took the walkers past Wildwood School and to the entrance of the former Havens attraction, Piedmont Park, which now attracts many off-leash dogs and their owners. Rather than take the shorter upper trail, the group took the lower one that runs along Bushy Dell Creek. The creek’s almost constant watering of the trees along its bank has resulted in some huge eucalyptus and redwood trees. A former mineral springs grotto was another point of interest. It was visited by Mark Twain around 1869 when he was on a lecture tour in San Francisco. The walkers continued on, and finished their walk at the Community Hall. It had been a morning filled with historical paths, interesting streets, and good conversation with new and old friends.