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Key System: C and 11 Lines Walk

Our Piedmont Recreation Department's Walking on Wednesdays group had another

great day for walking Piedmont streets last Wednesday. It was a cool,

overcast morning that was excellent for a long walk, and a strong turnout of

32 walkers and two K-9 best friends were on hand at the Exedra.

Meghan grew up in Piedmont, and is a historian of the city by hobby. She has created an

amazing "History of Piedmont" website ( with information that we have used on our walks.

The two weeks before, we had gone to the Piedmont streets that were on the

early 20th Century Key System streetcar Numbers 10 and 12 lines. The 10 line

went from Piedmont Avenue in Oakland to Crocker Park, and the 12 line went

down Fairview Avenue to Grand Avenue and downtown Oakland. However, there

had been two other Key System lines in Piedmont, and we thought it would be

good to complete our Key System exploration with a walk to where the C and

11 lines also once ran. So, a walk to these streets was selected as the

morning's destination.

A quick Key System refresher was provided. In the 1890s land developer Frank

C. Havens and his partner Francis Marion "Borax" Smith established "The

Realty Syndicate" that acquired large tracts of undeveloped land throughout

the East Bay for homes. The Key System was conceived by Smith as a way to

sell the syndicate's land. The Key System began service in 1903 in Berkeley

and in 1904 in what was to become the City of Piedmont.

On her website Meghan Bennett provides lots of information on Piedmont and

the Key System. She reports that shortly after Piedmont was incorporated in

1907, the B electric car line from Trestle Glen and the C line from 41st

Street and Piedmont Avenue provided connections to the ferry terminal in

West Oakland. In 1924, the C line was extended to its terminus at Oakland

Avenue and Latham Street. Following completion of the Bay Bridge, the Key

System provided direct rail service on both lines to San Francisco.

The 3.12 mile No. 11 Oakland Avenue line ran from Rio Vista, off Piedmont

Avenue near the Kaiser Hospital, up Piedmont Avenue to Linda Avenue and then

down Oakland Avenue and Broadway to 7th St. The line was started as a part

of Consolidated Piedmont Cable in 1892 and was later electrified. As a cable

line, this route ascended the steep Oakland Avenue hill using a long gravity

loop. This was not practical as an electric line, so the route was divided

with the steep hill line abandoned, and the lower end diverted via a private

right-of-way to Piedmont and Linda Avenues, thus avoiding the heavy grades.

At the about time the Bay Bridge was opening in 1936, National City Lines, a

once-small bus fleet in Minnesota, was organized into a holding company with

equity funding from General Motors, Firestone Rubber, Phillips Petroleum,

Standard Oil of California (which later became Chevron), and Mack Trucks,

began purchasing local transportation systems across the United States.

It was a corporate conspiracy to monopolize the sale of buses across the

United States, buses exclusively fueled by Phillips and Standard gasoline,

made by Mack and GM, and driven on Firestone tires. By 1946, it controlled

46 transportation companies in 45 cities across 16 states. National City

Lines tore up the tracks and the overhead wires and burned the trolley and

train cars. In 1946, it acquired a majority stake of Key System stock and

slowly began dismantling the system.

The local streetcar lines were replaced by buses after World War II, with

the right-of-ways converted to other uses, including parks and private

homes. On June 26, 1948 the Key System rail service on Oakland Avenue was

replaced by buses. The Transbay trains to Piedmont stopped running and the

Key System was dismantled in 1958. Transbay buses were substituted along

their approximate routes. In 1960, the Key System was sold to the newly

formed public agency, AC Transit.

In 1949, a Federal Court convicted National City Lines, General Motors,

Standard Oil of California, Firestone Tire, and others of criminally

conspiring to monopolize the sale of buses and related products to their

subsidiary transit companies throughout the U.S. and violating the Sherman

Anti-Trust Act. However, they were only fined $5,000. Some corporate

executives were found criminally guilty, but only fined $1.

With all this Key System information and understanding from Meghan Bennett's

History of Piedmont website, we were ready to walk. We started off going up

Highland Avenue to Oakland Avenue, which was actually part of the Number 10

line. We turned down Oakland and some of us who also participate in the

Recreation Department's First Mondays Reading Group got an early start

discussing our July book, Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr.

We came to Latham Street, the only Piedmont roadway named "street." This was

where the C line ended. It was clarified with Dave DeRoche that the

conversation was about the "C line" and not a "Sea Lion." Some of the houses

that were built along Latham were noted for their long, narrow footprints

that allowed them to fit on the strip of Key System right-of-way land after

the trains stopped running. We took the attached group picture on Latham.

We turned down Blair Avenue and went up York Drive. At Holly Place it was

noted that this was once a stop on the C line, and that a pathway on York

goes up to Ricardo Avenue. This made it easier for riders to get to the

trains. Towards the end of York, Charlene Louie shared old photos of the

trains with still recognizable homes in the background. Charlene also noted

that the last four homes on the upper side of York are infill homes built in

the late 1950s and early 1960s. The others are older homes built in the

1910s and 20s, and the trains ran between them and homes above on Ricardo


We came to Arroyo Avenue, where the C line merged with the 10 line and went

down Pleasant Valley Avenue to Piedmont Avenue. We went up Arroyo, crossed

Pleasant Valley, and started up Rose Avenue. Rose is on the Piedmont/Oakland

border with homes on its north side in Oakland and on the south side in

Piedmont. The street also has some of Piedmont's oldest homes. We admired

two Victorians, one of which was built in 1895. We also liked a front yard

garden with native plants, grasses, and some very tall, flowering

dandelions. Ralph Waldo Emerson's quote, "What is a weed? A plant whose

virtues have not been discovered," was considered.

We went down Linda Avenue, where the 11 line once ran to Oakland Avenue and

then downtown Oakland. Construction work being done on the path in the Linda

Avenue Dog Park and the park was closed, but we recognized that this area

around Linda Avenue was once part of the 11 line.

We emerged on Grand Avenue and walked down it to Fairview Avenue. Again,

Fairview was the top portion of the 12 line, so we walked up it too, and

took the lower portion of the street when it splits in two. We found another

pathway on this lower street that made it easier for riders to access the

trains. This path connected Fairview with Nova Drive, and we quickly got to

Magnolia Avenue for our return climb up the hill to the Exedra.

On our morning walk we had done them all. We walked portions of all the Key

System's Piedmont lines: the C and 11, and also the 10 and the 12. We did it

all in a little over an hour and a half with no transfers necessary. It was

a very good trip.


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