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 (https://www.historyofpiedmont.com) 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
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.