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Piedmont Highlanders Robotics classroom and the Craig House

It was the first day of summer and the weather was wonderful when our Piedmont Recreation Department's Walking on Wednesdays group assembled at the Exedra last week for our weekly walk. There was another strong turnout of 43 walkers and two K-9 best friends there to enjoy it. The group had taken long walks the two weeks before. We thought a walk around the level center of town, revisiting some Piedmont history, would be a relaxing way to start the summer. School was out so we could visit the high school and Havens Elementary School, and share their histories too. We headed off, going down Magnolia, and decided to take the first sidewalk into the high school's campus. We went past the new auditorium and came to the STEM building with its semi-open, gated Piedmont Highlanders Robotics classroom work area. As we were peeking into the space, volunteer team leader Kevin Clark came out with his daughter/able assistant, Elle, and asked us if we would like to come in. We happily accepted and Kevin provide information on the team and its successes. Each year they work on a different, national project, and go to a gathering, often in Houston, where they compete with other schools from around the country. Piedmont's team has often been among the winners with national recognition received. Kevin and Elle brought their current project, "Paddo the Frog," out to the walkway and posed for the attached photo with us. Meghan Bennett provide some more photos of Kevin with us that are also attached. We let Kevin and Elle get back to their fun, and we went up to Bonita Avenue. We soon came to the Wetmore House, the oldest house in Piedmont. It was built in 1878 by Jess Wetmore and his brother without plans. It had only two owners until 2006. After the last Wetmore family member died, the house was purchased in 1942 by Alice Erskine, a Mills College art instructor. She was able to register the house with the National Register, thus saving it from becoming a City parking lot. She also raised three children and lived in the house until her death in 2006 at age 97. Next was a walk through the Havens School playground where children and some parents were playing. Some Havens' history was shared there too. The City of Piedmont was incorporated in 1907, and since its population was growing dramatically after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, city leaders decided to build two schools to serve the community. The first school was built in 1910 and opened in 1911. It was originally named "The Bonita Avenue School," but was later renamed "Frank C. Havens Elementary School" after the land's donor. The school was expanded under the New Deal in the 1930s. A new five-classroom wing and an auditorium were built on the eastern edge of the school grounds. There had been three previous efforts to replace temporary school buildings in Piedmont in the 1920s because about one-third of Piedmont students were being taught in buildings that were derisively called "shacks" by the locals. However, all the school bond votes lost. After the school board gained a promise of funding from the Public Works Administration (PWA) in 1933, a new bond issue for $233,000 passed that year. Work did not begin until 1936, and it appears that the school district ran out of money because it applied for additional support from the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA classrooms at Havens were built in 1937-38 and the auditorium was added in 1940-42. The auditorium was named in honor of Ellen Driscoll, who was Havens' first principal and taught at the school for 20 years. A new Havens School was built on the same site in 1955. The 1910 school, which faced Bonita Avenue and was on the current playground area, was torn down. The new school held a kindergarten, 11 new classrooms, library, cafeteria, and administration wing. The New Deal classrooms and auditorium in the back remained. However, in 2010 the school was completely rebuilt and the 1938 classrooms were demolished. At the Ellen Driscoll Playhouse students participated in painting the ceilings of all the Piedmont school auditoriums. The theme at Havens/Driscoll is California history, at Wildwood it is U.S. history, and at Beach it is literature. Fifth and sixth graders painted the panels in a paint-by-number fashion before they were applied to the ceiling. We exited Havens' play area through its Oakland Avenue gate, crossed Highland Avenue, and went up Craig Avenue to its end at Mountain. There on the left was Hugh Craig's original home. We learned of the City of Piedmont's founding, and the role Craig played in it. He was born in Sydney, Australia in 1841 to Scottish parents, and grew up in New Zealand before moving to Oakland in 1874. He worked for the New Zealand Insurance Company and opened an office in San Francisco. He married Inez Gilcrest in 1875 and bought five acres on Vernal Avenue (the name was changed to Highland in 1911). The Craigs built a house in the middle of the land, and raised six children. It is surprisingly large with five bedrooms and four and a half baths in a total of 4,359 square feet. In the aftermath of the April 18, 1906 San Francisco earthquake many people moved to Oakland and Piedmont. Oakland was looking for property taxes to pay for the additional services it needed to provide. It wanted to annex Piedmont, but a group of Piedmont residents wanted to incorporate and be a separate city. It was race and those who favored incorporation had to move quickly. They needed a map to file incorporation papers in Sacramento, so they used the existing Oakland boundaries on the south and west of Piedmont, and the map from the Piedmont Sanitary District for the city's north and east boundaries. This explains why some Piedmont homes are partially in Oakland. On January 7, 1907 Craig and another Piedmonter raced to Sacramento to file the incorporation papers. This incorporation had to be approved by the voters, and on January 26, 1907, 79 Piedmont men voted for incorporation and 38 voted against it. It was all men because women didn't get the right to vote until 1920. On January 31, 1907 the State approved Piedmont's incorporation. However, immediately there were problems and some Piedmonters wanted to vote again about being a separate city. On September 5, 1907 a vote on disincorporating and becoming part of Oakland was held. Approval required a 2/3 vote. Ninety-two men voted to dis-incorporate and 62 voted for Piedmont to stay a separate city. The vote to disincorporate failed by only 10 votes. Craig was elected mayor by the Piedmont Board of Trustees in 1907, and served until 1914. To fund the new city, Mayor Craig instituted a new property tax. Prior to incorporation, all residents paid the same, small tax to the County. However, the new Piedmont tax was based on the size of the home's parcel. Craig's tax was not popular with residents, and was also an issue for Craig. In 1912 he had his home put on log rollers and pulled by horses to the corner of his property where it is now at 55 Craig Avenue. He subdivided his land and created Craig Avenue with lots on both sides of the street. Maybe not surprisingly, Craig was not re-elected mayor in 1914. Craig's house is a beautiful Italian Victorian, built in 1883, and the second oldest home in Piedmont. In 1912 Highland Avenue was being expanded, and Craig had the home put on log rollers and pulled by horses to the corner of his property where it is now at 55 Craig Avenue. He subdivided his land and created Craig Avenue with lots on both sides of the street. There had been a lot of history and talking this morning, so it was time to do some walking. The group went up Mountain, down Caperton Avenue to Richardson Way, up it to Lakeview Avenue, down it to Caperton and Highland again. A swing around Gilford Avenue to the top of Piedmont Park got us back to our starting point. It had been a fun, back to the future and Piedmont history kind of morning.


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