Our Piedmont Recreation Department's Walking on Wednesdays group gathered last Wednesday at our regular time at the Exedra. We had a cool morning that was great for walking, and a strong turnout of 39 walkers and three K-9 best friends were there to enjoy it.
When we assembled, it was noted that we will not be walking in the Piedmont 4th of July parade, which was the coming Tuesday, and the next Independence Day holiday on a Wednesday will not be until 2029. All the walkers were asked to put it on their calendars because the group will walk in that parade rain or shine.
Nancy had offered to take us on a tour of her neighborhood above Oakland Avenue, which includes historic Blair and Scenic Avenues.
Nancy explained that the area above Oakland Avenue was a bit of bohemian neighborhood in the early 20th Century. Writers and painters like Jack London and Xavier Martinez lived there in some unique homes. Some of these creative types built their own homes, which seemed to be the thing that people involved in the arts did at the time.
Nancy led us across Highland Avenue and went up to Oakland Avenue. We turned up Oakland and stopped at what was once the home of George Sterling, who was Frank C. Havens' nephew. Sterling worked for Havens, but he was a frustrated artist and poet, and traveled in a circle of artists. He met Jack London and encourage London to live in Piedmont.
We backtracked a few houses and went up the one-block Hardwick Avenue to the steep Blair Avenue. As we were making our climb of Blair, Nancy pointed out the Sutro Mansion at the top of the street, hidden by other homes. Nancy told us that the mansion is not the first house built on this hilltop site. Initially, a much smaller, craftsman-style home was built there in 1876-77
by Joseph Worcester.
This house has a special claim to fame. It was in it that Jack London lived and wrote his classic, The Call of the Wild in 1902-03. However, in about 1910, after London lived there, the house was moved two lots up the street so that the mansion could be built there in 1910 and have expansive views of the Bay. The group walked up to see the smaller house. It has a lovely, cedar shake shingle exterior, and was enlarged after it was moved by adding a new first floor.
London was a prominent part of the artists' colony that occupied this part of Piedmont in the early 1900s. He was a free-spirited, high-spirited man who sailed to the Orient, drank freely, and had at least three important women in his life. The success of The Call of the Wild provided him with considerable wealth. He built a separate home for first wife, Bessie, and their two daughters, further up the hill on Scenic Avenue. We continued up Scenic, went past Bessie's home, and stopped at a turn in the bend of the street to enjoy the view of San Francisco and the Bay. As we were admiring the view, a woman drove down the driveway, parked, and invited us to come
see the view from her yard. We introduced ourselves to Karen Eliassen, who with her husband Roger are longtime Piedmonters.
We made our way around most of the length of the Scenic loop, and came to the rustic bungalow home of another famous member of the Piedmont bohemian community, painter Xavier Martinez. This home/studio was inhabited by his daughter and artist, Kai Martinez, until her death in 1989. We took the attached group photo in front of it. A photo of Nancy talking with us is also attached.
We made our way down this narrow part of Scenic, and decided to have an adventure on our way home. This was descending the hill via Piedmont's longest pedestrian pathway and set of stairs, the 281 foot Blair and Scenic Path. Its steep stairs go as far as the eye can see, and thankfully there is a handrail the entire way. All of is safely got back to Blair, and then down to Pacific and Mountain Avenues to the Community Hall parking lot. We gave Nancy a round of applause at the walk's end for the wonderful tour of her historic neighborhood.
For more information on the Bohemians of Piedmont go to https://www.paintingpiedmont.com/