Our Piedmont Recreation Department's Walking on Wednesdays group continued
to live our charmed weather life last Wednesday. It was a beautiful, mild,
sunny morning, but the forecast was for needed, heavy rain on Thursday.
Timing is everything and we seem to have it when it comes to the weather.
A solid turnout of 35 veteran walkers and three K-9 best friends were at the
Retired Piedmont High teacher Mike Humphries, who showed us his
garage-filling model trains earlier in the year, had called to tell us if
our kids or grandkids would like to see his holiday Polar Bear Express train
setup, he would be happy to have us visit.
Lastly, I shared that I am going to have some skin surgery next week that
unfortunately has a four to six week do-nothing period after it. I'm going
to be fine, but probably not going to be able to lead walks until
mid-January. Melba Y. and others are organizing a plan where walkers will
lead individual walks during this period.
As you know, we have an informal objective of walking every safe-walking
street in Piedmont each year. It was almost December and there are only a
few we haven't gotten to. One little pocket of streets was Cambrian Way and
parts of Jerome and Howard Avenues. We wanted to check them off, and along
the way we could also go up and down the short Hillside Court off Magnolia
Avenue, which we have passed many times on walks, but hadn't gone to in a
couple of years. So this was the suggested plan sent to the group the night
When Piedmont Historical Society president Gail Lombardi read about the
walk, she responded with some excitement, "You are in for a treat. The house
at the bottom of Hillside Court (415) is a real gem with a river rock base.
The designer was Verb Strang who designed a handful of distinct houses in
Piedmont." Gail went on, "Also, if you walk Jerome north of Oakland Avenue,
you'll see a cluster of Queen Anne houses, some of the oldest houses in
Piedmont dating back to the 1890s. Lots of choices."
We headed off, going down Magnolia Avenue past the high school, to the top
of Hillside Court. We went down its steep hill to 415. Zillow research had
revealed that the house was built in 1904. It is a charming home with, as
Gail said, a base made up of large river rocks. As we were admiring it, John
Randolph, the long-time owner, came out and talked with us about his home.
Not only did Verb Strang design the home, he also lived in it. He designed
some other homes in Piedmont, but many more in Alameda. John said the house
is beautiful, but like most old homes it is a "maintenance sink." We
appreciated John's hospitality and posed with him in front of his house for
the attached group photo.
As we started back up the hill, a neighbor, Mike C, was there to
share with us more neighborhood history. First, he pointed out that the
telephone pole at the bottom on the street does not have a cell phone signal
booster, as was once proposed. That's because Mike was able to show the pole
is curiously on the private property of one of the residents, not on public
land. Mike also shared more history of the street, including how the City
bought the land, which went all the way down to what is now Witter Field,
for one piece of gold.
We learned more about Hillside Court from John and Mike than we had
expected. Thanks were expressed and we continued on to Jerome and its own
unique, old homes. We walked down Jerome, passing a Frosty the Snowman along
the way, and crossed Oakland Avenue looking for a set of the homes. When we
came to 31 Jerome a dog on its front porched served territorial notice with
prolonged barking, and architects Jim Kellogg and Bob Wong provided
background on Queen Anne homes. They are Victorian-style houses that have
specific features, like dynamic, asymmetrical facades, wraparound porches,
towers and turrets, multicolored palettes, steep roofs with cross gables or
large dormers, and expansive porches with decorative wood trim.
31 Jerome seems to be the oldest on the street and was built in 1894. Jim
Kellogg shared more history from his and Mike Henn's time on the Piedmont
Planning Commission. Some years back the new owner took on the significant
job of restoring the home with its brick foundation. There was also a
dilapidated horse stable in the back that was falling down. They were saved
and restored. Jim described the house as a storybook, Queen Anne "cutie."
Next door is 29 Jerome, a home built in 1895, which we enjoyed too.
The group went on to Cambridge Way. We went down it, crossed Grand Avenue
and continued up it, passing some very old palm trees in front yards.
Cambridge ends at Howard Avenue, and we started our return to the Exedra,
going down and then up Oakland Avenue to Arbor Drive, Fairview Avenue,
Oakland Avenue again, upper San Carlos Avenue, and finally Magnolia Avenue.
It was a little over a two mile walk in 90 minutes with interesting, old
Piedmont homes and history, welcoming people, and walking friends.