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Oakland Avenue Bridge Walk

There was another strong turnout for the Piedmont Recreation Department’s Walking on Wednesdays walk last week. Twenty eight walkers participated.

The group also had a guest. Piedmont Recreation Department Supervisor Eva Phalen was there to tell the walkers about her new “Meet Ups” initiative. The Recreation Department wants to help older adults develop additional activities, like Walking on Wednesdays, which address their interests. Think art, music, film, cards, etc. She encouraged the walkers to email her with their ideas and desires.

The group has visited most of Piedmont's parks, but one that they had not gone to recently was the Linda Avenue Dog Park. A walk to it would also give them the opportunity to take a closer look at the Oakland Avenue Bridge, which was the historic entrance to Piedmont, and inspect the black iron guardrail improvement that was made in 2019. The bridge also has some history, so the group made it and the park their destinations.

The walkers headed off going up to the corner of Highland and Oakland Avenues, where the route of street cars that long ago crossed the Oakland Avenue Bridge ended. The group continued down Oakland to its corner with El Cerrito Avenue where Dick Carter pointed out his childhood home down the street that his parents bought in 1955 for $19,000. He also noted the liquidambar tree in the car strip in front of the house that is still noticeably larger than the other trees because of all the watering his father did over many decades. The walkers continued down Oakland to the stop light at Grand Avenue where it took two stop light cycles for all the walkers to get across the street.

The group went up to and stopped at the foot of the bridge. Drawing on Piedmont Historical Society information from Gail Lombardi’s research, the walkers learned that Albert Farr designed the Oakland Avenue Bridge in 1910 as a significant entrance to Piedmont. Farr used the same Spanish design that he had used in the Piedmont City Hall and the Bonita Avenue School, which later became Havens School. The bridge replaced an old wood trestle that was built in 1890 for the cable cars that served Piedmont in its early years. The bridge was built in 1911 by Engineer John Buck Leonard of Union City, Michigan, who was a pioneering bridge engineer, architect, and early advocate for reinforced concrete. He worked mainly in northern California around the early 1900s. The bridge has architectural motifs such as steep walls and overhangs which were once used to prevent entry into medieval fortresses. This is a concrete arch bridge over Linda Avenue with a 160 foot arch span and retaining wall supported approaches in a closed spandrel concrete deck arch design. The largest span is 159.1 feet and the total length is 343.2 feet. The average daily traffic was 7,675 cars in 2007. Based on all the cars the walkers saw, it is no less today.

The relatively new lampposts, lights, and now the guardrails make the Oakland Avenue Bridge a lovely entrance to the city, and the guardrails make the bridge safer for walkers. The project was part of the Piedmont Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan that was adopted by the City Council in 2014. The guardrail project was made possible by a matching grant secured by then Vice Mayor, now Mayor Teddy King from the Alameda County Transportation Commission. The guardrail project’s total cost of $414,000 was surprisingly high for the walkers.

The length of the bridge, which is more than a football field, was more fully realized by walking up to its top. There the group crossed Oakland Avenue and posed for a photo.

It was now time to visit the Linda Avenue Dog Park. Many walkers had never been to it and some didn’t realize it existed. As the group walked through the park they were surprised how attractive it is. Those who had walked the park with the group in early 2020 were impressed with the improvements that the City has made.

The group emerged on to Linda Avenue and walked down it past the Linda Beach Playfield. They also passed the new townhomes that were built on a long-abandoned PG&E substation site under and near the bridge. They stopped at the base of the bridge, and looking up appreciated Farr’s architectural design that does conjure up the image of a medieval fortress.

The walkers continue on to the corner of Linda and Grand Avenue. Regular walkers identified this as the site where Axel R. Gruggel built his A Mon Chateau restaurant and beer garden in 1892. The walkers lamented that the beer is long gone. They went down Grand, carefully crossed it at the Ace Hardware, and made their climb up Wildwood and Magnolia Avenues, through the Recreation Department’s yard, past the still full Piedmont pool, and the still not completed High School to the their Exedra starting point. It had been a 90 minute, little over two mile walk with and new and old friends, and fun for everyone.

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