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Life's a Beach (School)

The forecast was for clouds with only a chance of rain last Wednesday. After some earlier wet Wednesdays this year, it was a good weather morning for our Piedmont Recreation Department’s Walking on Wednesdays group, and a solid turnout of 37 walkers and one K-9 best were on hand at the Exedra to enjoy a walk together.

Piedmont students were on winter break, so it was a good week to visit empty schoolyards. We had gone by Havens School the previous week and visiting a student-free Beach School was a good follow-up. Off we went down Magnolia Avenue past the high school and under-construction aquatics center.

We continued down Magnolia, but had to cross the first of a number of streets where sidewalks were closed and having work being done on them. We walked down El Cerrito Avenue to its corner with Oakland Avenue where a new bulb-out, curb extension has been built. We crossed Oakland and went down to a second, larger curb extension where work continued on it. Rob Smith, who lives nearby, had been told by a worker that 2 ½ truckloads of cement had been needed for it, and the City required it be pink. This lead to a cement color discussion and made us much more conscious of the sidewalks we were walking on.

We continued down Oakland and then Greenbank Avenue. We noted a charming Victorian home that was built in 1896. It has a white picket fence, chairs, and a children’s swing in the front yard. However, there was no time for a break. We crossed Grand Avenue and climbed up Greenbank to its corner with Lake Avenue. Lake could take us directly to Beach School, but since we were in the neighborhood, we wanted to see Nace and Howard Avenues before continuing on Lake to the school.

This section of Piedmont goes back to its first days. The homes on Nace, Howard, and Lake started being built around 1908. The oldest Nace house was built in 1910, and a giant tree in front of one house was planted by a father and daughter sometime in the 1920s.

Going down Howard and then up Lake again, we were soon in front of Beach School’s main entrance. There, drawing on research from Gail Lombardi’s Piedmont Historical Society and Meghan Bennett’s History of Piedmont website, the history of the school was shared.

Egbert Beach Elementary can tie its history back to the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. On that April 18th morning, thousands of people fled the City to the East Bay. Many decided not to return to San Francisco, and Piedmont grew ten times over the next year. Piedmont was incorporated the following year in September 1907. City leaders decided to build two schools to serve the community. The first school was originally named “The Bonita Avenue School,” but was later renamed after the land donor, Frank C. Havens. It was opened in 1911.

The Bonita Avenue School quickly filled, and the Lake Avenue School was built in 1913. There were four teachers and 100 students in six grades. In 1918, the school was renamed the “Egbert W. Beach School” in honor of Egbert William Beach, who was the first Piedmonter and first Californian officer killed in France during World War I. He died in 1918 and the Lake Avenue School was renamed in his honor that year. Beach is buried in the Somme American Cemetery in northern France. He is also memorialized in Piedmont on the marble plaque in front of the Veterans Memorial Building, which lists his name and the six others from Piedmont who were killed in World War I.

The rapid growth of Piedmont from 1920 to 1930 created school housing needs that could not be met with available school funds. Beach students were taught in cramped, wooden portables that were called “shacks” by the locals.

In 1933 the Beach buildings were condemned as firetraps and an earthquake menace. They were torn down in 1934. The school was replaced in two separate Depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects. The main wing was built in 1936, and the auditorium/classroom wing was added in 1940. It was an entire new building of eight classrooms, kindergarten, administrative unit, library, health room and auditorium.

The 1972 6th grade class was the last one at Beach. After that, Piedmont 6th graders started going to the middle school and have ever since.

As part of city-wide seismic facility upgrades, Beach hosted some Havens students for the 2009-10 school year while Havens was rebuilt, and then Wildwood students in 2010-11. When Beach had its renovations in 2011-12, the school temporarily relocated to Emeryville with buses shuttling students there and back. In the fall of 2012, Egbert W. Beach School re-opened its campus with two new classrooms, new outdoor/playground facilities, an edible garden, and seismic upgrades.

After sharing this history, we walked into the school grounds and took a group photo on a set of school steps. We continued through the playground and past a tot lot where many, very young people were playing. Next to them were the Linda Beach Courts that have been converted into Pickleball courts.

However, there weren’t the usual Pickleballers there. Quincy Dong explained that in an attempt to address neighbors’ noise issues, there is now no Pickleball Wednesday play on them. However, there were larger young people enjoying themselves in a Recreation Department holiday camp on the adjacent playfield. We exited the field through gates at Linda Avenue, continued down it to Grand Avenue, and walked to and up Wildwood Avenue back to the Exedra.

As we were approaching it, the clouds opened and a rain shower started. We were happy that our weather timing, like the walk, was nearly perfect.


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