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Key System 11 Route Walk

There was more great weather for the Piedmont Recreation Department’s Walking on Wednesdays walkers last Wednesday. The day before had been on the warm side, but this Wednesday morning the traditional Bay Area June morning overcast had returned. The clouds made for a very comfortable morning, and there was an excellent, pre-4th of July week turnout of 31 walkers and two K-9 best friends at the Exedra.

The week before, Charlene Louie had taken the group on a tour of the streets that were on the lower portion of the early 20th Century Key System streetcar No. 10 line. However, there were three other Key System lines in Piedmont, and the walkers thought it would be interesting to see where they ran too. So, the route of the No. 12 line in Piedmont was selected as the morning’s destination. Additionally, going to it would allow the group to see some interesting, other Piedmont streets and sights.

Before starting off, a short review of the Key System was provided as a refresher for those on the previous walk, and an introduction for those who hadn’t been on it. In the 1890s the area that would become Piedmont was largely dairy farms and open space. As the East Bay population grew in the later years of the 1800’s, land developer Frank C. Havens and his partner Francis Marion “Borax” Smith established "The Realty Syndicate." This company acquired large tracts of undeveloped land throughout the East Bay for homes. Potential buyers needed transportation to get from their new homes to work in the area and in San Francisco. The Key System was conceived by Borax Smith as a way to sell The Realty Syndicate’s land. The Key System began service in 1903 in Berkeley and in 1904 in what was to become the City of Piedmont.

Some background information on the No. 12 Line was also shared before the group started off. It was originally called the “Grand Avenue & Hollis Street Line.” At its fullest this line went along the following Oakland and Piedmont streets and avenues: Oakland, Fairview, Grand, Webster, 14th, Market, 24th, Adeline, 32nd, Hollis, to Yerba Buena. The Grand Avenue & Hollis Street line began as a shuttle on Grand Avenue from Wildwood Avenue, at the city limits, to Perry Street near where Oakland Avenue and the MacArthur Freeway are today. The line connected there with cars of the Lakeshore Avenue line. In 1915 the end of the line was extended from Grand Avenue up Fairview Avenue. The route had a few name changes over the years, but in 1928 its name was finalized as the “No. 12” line.” However, on June 27, 1948 the No. 12 Grand Avenue streetcar service was abandoned, and buses replaced the service. It was noted that the previous Monday was the 74th anniversary of the No. 12 Line’s closure.

The walkers head off going down Magnolia Avenue past the high school. As they went down Magnolia, Noemi Alvarado told the group how a couple of years before a large number of the liquid amber trees that line the street were removed by the City because the trees’ roots were damaging the sidewalks and creating PG&E powerline problems. They were replaced with new trees that are noticeably smaller than the originally planted trees.

The group went down Jerome Avenue on their way to Fairview, but they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to walk up the charming, short Keefer Court cul-de-sac. This street has a home at its end with a marvelous, cactus garden front yard that is a delight to see. Other homes have a similar look. Long time walkers remembered stories of how the homeowner transformed his garden to the marvel that it is today from what was an ordinary yard.

After enjoying Keefer, it was on to Fairview. When they got to the top of it, it was noted that the Key System’s C Line, which ran to San Francisco, ended across the now visible Oakland Avenue at Latham Street, the only Piedmont street with the name “street.” The group made their way down Fairview and then up to its high point where there is a home built in 1912 with a set of steps in front.

The group continued on down Fairview to Grand Avenue. They saw the long stretch of land that separates the upper and lower portions of the street. This was once right of way Key System land and where the trains ran. The walkers saw and admired another lovely, old home. This one is a classic Victorian built in 1896. They also tried to identify homes in old Key System train photos that Charlene Louie had brought.

The group went down Grand, noted the city limits sign that said they were now in Oakland, went past Grand Piedmont Liquors, no refreshment stop was required, and turned up Boulevard Way. On the way up it they passed the Piedmont Post’s office, and couldn’t resist walking up and back the short portion of Crofton Avenue that is in Piedmont; so they could include it in the Piedmont streets they had walked. There was no sign to identify the city line, but the different companies’ garbage cans for Piedmont and Oakland homes were a giveaway.

The walkers came to and turned up Warfield Avenue. On their way to Wildwood Avenue, they noticed two different places where broken pieces of ceramics had been cemented into holes in the sideway. Not only were they unique and attractive, but they also filled the holes. It was agreed that this is a great idea. The group passed the summer-vacation-quiet Wildwood School, entered Piedmont Park, and made their way back to the Community Hall and town center. It had been a beautiful morning with old and new friends, seeing another part of the historic Key System, and other interesting parts of Piedmont and Oakland.


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