Our Piedmont Recreation Department's Walking on Wednesday group had a good turnout of 33 walkers and four K-9 best friends at the Exedra this Wednesday for our first 2024 walk. It was a beautiful morning after some heavy rain the night before.
Piedmont students don't come back to school until next Monday, so we had a chance to walk the Piedmont High campus and go down to see the construction progress on Witter Field. However, before we got started some PHS history was told.
In 1916 Piedmont land developer Frank C. Havens was in financial trouble, and he wanted to sell the Piedmont Park to raise funds. The Piedmont School Board voted to purchase some of the park for a new high school. They wanted to buy 13 acres, but Havens wouldn't sell less than the entire 27 acres. The City of Piedmont wanted to save the park from development, but did not have
the money to purchase the remaining parkland. And in November 1916, Piedmont voters defeated a measure to raise funds to purchase the land.
The land was still available in 1921 when Piedmont philanthropist Wallace Alexander and others offered to purchase 14 acres of the park if the City would reimburse them. This plan allowed the entire 27-acre parcel to be sold. The School District could buy the 13 acres it wanted, and the City
could have its park. Alexander purchased the land for the City in 1921. One year later voters passed a bond issue and the City reimbursed Alexander and his partners. Construction began immediately on the high school in 1921. Piedmont Junior High School was added in 1924, and additions to the high school were built in 1937 and 1939.
We headed off for the high school, but took a path behind the Exedra along the top of the park that led us to a backside entrance to the school. We walked down a breezeway to an open area in front of the Student Center and the Library. There more PHS history was shared and the attached group photo was taken.
In 1974 the original school building was declared unsafe under state earthquake laws, and was demolished. However, the demolition took longer than anticipated because the buildings were so well built that it was difficult to tear them down. The new construction was done in the "back-to-nature" style that was popular at the time with a wood exterior. However, by the mid-2010s this construction was also deemed earthquake unsafe and these buildings had to be demolished too. The school was reconstructed following voters' passage of a "H1 Measure," which issued $56
million in bonds for new facilities to meet earthquake safety guidelines. A new STEAM building was built on the site, along with a new theater, and they opened in fall 2021.
Some more interesting facts about PHS were also shared. It was the last school in California to resist pressure from the State to stop enforcing a dress code which required students, and specifically girls, to wear a uniform. In fact, PHS girls were required to wear middy blouses and black pleated skirts until the early 1960s. This sounded pretty bad to the walkers until Lori A noted that girls having to wear uniforms eliminated wardrobe competition, which was a good thing.
PHS's most famous graduate is probably Robert S. McNamara, Presidents Kennedy and Johnson's Secretary of Defense. Another PHS alum who deserves recognition is Tom Williamson. Tom was the first African-American student in Piedmont. He excelled both academically and athletically at PHS. He was student body president in 1964 and earned letters in football, basketball and track and field. He was an All East football player at Harvard, graduated magna cum laude, and was a Rhodes Scholar with Bill Clinton. He had a distinguished legal career marked by public service. Sadly, he died in 2017 at the age of 70 from pancreatic cancer. Meghan Bennett's History of Piedmont website has an excellent page on Tom at https://www.historyofpiedmont.com/tom. A photo of Tom running track at PHS is attached.
The school's most famous non-graduate attendee is probably Clint Eastwood. According to research done by Piedmont Historical Society, Clint was born in 1930 and attended PHS. He excelled in P.E., but received poor grades in other classes. Classmates said he was interested in girls and cars. In January 1946 Clint was asked to leave PHS for writing an obscene suggestion to a school official along with other infractions. He transferred to Oakland Technical High School and graduated in 1949. His senior photo is also attached.
We continued on and stopped in front of Piedmont's other high school, Millennium High School. It was established in 2000 at the start of the new Millennium. It is a small, self-contained alternative high school. MHS students complete the same graduation requirements as PHS students. We continued on past the Binks Rawlings gymnasium to the steep PE Hill that students go down for their P.E. classes. By chance, PUSD Director of Facilities Pete Palmer was driving up the hill. He stopped and confirmed the Witter Field project is still scheduled for completion on February 2nd. We came to the Witter Field locker rooms and offices building, and walked through its entrance gates to a balcony that overlooks the field. Work was still being done, but the new turf was in place and "Piedmont" was written on it.
The original athletic field was added to PHS in 1924. Witter Field was reconstructed and rededicated as the Witter Sports Complex in 1998 with a new synthetic turf field. The running track was enlarged to be a regulation, full quarter mile, and new locker rooms and offices were built. The turf was replaced in 2007, and this new surface was supposed to have an eight year
life. However, it was used much longer. By last year it was worn out and overdue for replacement. Additionally, the field's drainage didn't work well and the field often flooded in heavy rains. The repairs' price tag was $4,156,933. Thankfully, State Modernization Funds were available to pay for the project. They were like matching funds for Piedmont's Measure H 1 Bond. We went down the stairs to a walkway around the top of the stadium's stands and walked over to the baseball field that is named after retired, long-time PHS baseball and football coach Mike Humphries. We circled back and checked out the relatively new, little-known Bern Field that is just above the walkway around the east side of the stadium. Mike H said the Piedmont Soccer Club got permission a few year ago to create this turf field for their youth practices on what was an unused space.
We continued on past the PHS softball field to the lower entrance to Piedmont Park for our return to the Exedra. The park's lower path let us check the water flow in Bushy Dell Creek. We could also smell the strong scent from the huge eucalyptus trees along the creek's bank that the rain
from the night before had unleashed. It was a little shorter walk than usual in distance, but it was long in PHS history and full of good conversations on a lovely morning.
Edit from Meghan: another rumor was that Clint rode his motorcycle through the corridor which did not make officials happy. His father was a also an alumni of Piedmont. He did go to Oakland Tech and many newspapers have this information wrong saying he was a graduate, for example: