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Key to the 10 Line

Our Piedmont Recreation Department's Walking on Wednesday group had another great, late fall morning for our walk last Wednesday. It was cool, but sunny, perfect for walking. There was a strong turnout of 42 walkers, but no K-9 best friends, at the Exedra for our weekly walk.

It had been over a year since Charlene L had taken us on a tour of the streets that were on the early 20th Century Key System's 10 Line streetcar route. Charlene lives on Arroyo Avenue, which is on the former route, and she has researched the system, so she could tell us all about it.

Before Charlene got started it was announced that next Wednesday we will walk to Zachary's Pizza on Grand Avenue and have our annual holiday lunch together. Additionally, it will be Christine C's last walk with us. She is retiring and returning to her native Grenada, so the lunch will be nice send off for Christine too.

Charlene shared that in the 1890s the area that would become Piedmont was largely dairy farms and open space. As the East Bay's population grew, land developer Frank C. Havens and his partner Francis Marion "Borax" Smith established "The Realty Syndicate." In 1895 it acquired 13,000 acres of undeveloped land in the East Bay from North Berkeley to San Leandro. To sell

this land, transportation had to be provided within the communities and to San Francisco.

After having made a fortune in borax mining in Nevada and gaining his nickname, "Borax", Smith and Havens turned to real estate and electric traction for streetcars. Their transportation system was a consolidation of several streetcar lines that they assembled in the late 1890s and early

1900s. In 1897, they acquired a cable car line in Piedmont and East Bay, which had been electrified. The Key System was founded and incorporated in 1902 as the San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose Railway. It was marketed as "the Key System" because its East Bay routes looked like circles on the top of a key. Its first service was from downtown Berkeley to the ferry pier in

1903, and their Piedmont service started in 1904. The system connected the East Bay to San Francisco with a pier on the Bay where passengers boarded a ferry to San Francisco. After the Bay Bridge was completed in 1936, Key System trains ran on the lower deck of the bridge, with the upper deck for cars going both east and west.

Piedmont had three streetcar lines, the Numbers 10, 11, and 12. The 10 line went from downtown Oakland along Broadway to the Piedmont Avenue station at 41st, where JJ's restaurant used to be and Charm, a Thai restaurant, is now. There is a plaque in the plaza telling the history of the Key System. The 10 went along Pleasant Valley and Grand Avenues through central Piedmont, and what is now the Hall Fenway, to Crocker and Hampton. In 1946, National City Lines acquired 64% of the Key System's stock. National's owners included General Motors, Firestone Tire, and Phillips Petroleum. At that time National owned 29 transportation companies in 16 states. Many rapid changes occurred immediately after their purchase, including fare hikes and cutbacks in service. In 1947 nine corporations and some individuals were sued in Federal District Court of Southern California.

They were acquitted on charges of conspiring to acquire control of transit companies and forming a monopoly. However, they were convicted of conspiring to monopolize country-wide sales of buses and supplies. The Key System streetcars were discontinued and replaced by buses in 1948, and the trains to San Francisco were stopped in 1958. The system provided

mass transit in the cities of Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, Emeryville, Piedmont, San Leandro, Richmond, Albany, and El Cerrito from 1903 until 1960, when it was sold to a newly formed public agency, AC Transit.

Charlene led us down Highland Avenue to Park Way to explore the lower Piedmont portion of the 10 route. Along this section of Highland there are four lanes because it had to accommodate streetcars, horses and buggies, and later cars. However, at Park, Highland narrows to two lanes because the 10 turned down Park. Charlene had a 1943 photo of a 10 car with a Highland

Avenue home in the background. We thought this same home's steps were a fun spot for a group photo.

The trains went down Park Way's hill, and over to what is now Ramona and Arroyo Avenues. We walked down Park, recognizing the designs of the older homes on the left side and the newer mid-century homes on the right. These infill homes were built after the trains stopped running and the system's right-of-way land was sold for home construction. These homes have streets

on both the front and back of the properties with no backyard neighbors. Some homes have their front doors and addresses on Park, while other homes have theirs on Ramona.

We took a 107-foot path from Park up to Ramona, and went down Ramona to Monticello Avenue. We noted a hidden pathway that goes up to the Lorita Avenue cul-de-sac, but we went down Arroyo. We passed Charlene's home on Arroyo, and went down York Drive to a 272-foot path at Holly Place that took us up to Ricardo Avenue. We then went up El Cerrito Avenue, over to Magnolia, and up it to the Exedra. At the walk's end, we thanked Charlene for the informative tour of this old Key System route. Everyone agreed it had been a perfect 10.


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