It was a cool morning last Wednesday for twenty nine members of the Piedmont Recreation Department’s Walking on Wednesdays group as they assembled at the Exedra. It was sunny and clear, but only about 50 degrees.
It was “February Break Week” for the schools, so a focus on Piedmont schools seemed natural for this week’s walk. The group also appreciates Piedmont history, and seeing the places connected with historical spots. Additionally, they enjoy seeing lovely streets and homes. Happily, there was destination for the morning’s walk that provided a wonderful combination of all of this.
The group learned from an article in the Post by Gail Lombardi, Piedmont Historical Society’s president, of a Piedmont school that no longer exists. Gail reported that at the start of the twentieth century, Amy Requa Long wanted her daughters to have good educations, so she got Isaac Requa to build a one-room schoolhouse for her on his property at what is now the end of the Requa Place cul-de-sac.
According to Gail’s history, Amy Long hired a teacher for her daughters and a few neighborhood children. This was the very first school in Piedmont. Interest in the private school grew and in 1905 Amy leased a house at the corner of Highland Avenue and Hazel Lane. She also hired Marion Ransom and Edith Bridges from the Anna Head School in Berkeley to be the new school’s teachers. The school attracted the daughters from many prominent Piedmont and California families, and soon outgrew its space. In 1908 Amy Long hired Julia Morgan to design a new school building with classroom and dormitory rooms on five acres of land that is now Hazel Lane. The new Miss Ransom and Miss Bridges School for Girls opened in 1913. Soon after more classrooms and a gymnasium were added. The school had dormitory rooms for up to 70 students from first grade through high school. In 1924 there were 186 students, and in 1928 there were 21 teachers and 42 graduating seniors.
However, the Stock Market crashed in 1929 and the following Depression created financial difficulties for many parents sending their daughters to the Ransom Bridges School. Piedmont High was less expensive and Ransom Bridges’ enrollment declined dramatically. In 1932 there were only 12 graduating seniors and it closed in June that year. In 1936 the school building was demolished and the land was developed by architect Albert Farr as Ransom Gardens.
The walkers wanted to see the school’s site. They headed off going through Piedmont Park past the Tea House to Highland Avenue, and then down Highland to its corner with Hazel Lane, where Amy Long’s first schoolhouse once stood. They stood in front of the home that is now on the site, read more of Gail Lombardi’s history, and then continued up to Hazel Place to where the Requa mansion once stood looking out at the Bay. Lovely homes now are in its place with only the old columns that marked the estate’s entrance remaining.
The group retraced their steps and came to the tall redwood tree at 71 Hazel Lane, where the entrance to the Ransom Bridges School once was.
The group walked through the Hazel Lane loop to the school’s former site at 141 Hazel Lane. Architect walker Jim Kellogg expressed admiration for the Albert Farr craftsman design of the home now there. The walkers liked the house so much they took another group photo. The walkers also noted the neighborhood’s first house at 152 Hazel Lane, and completed the rest of Hazel Lane loop, which took them to Requa Road. They walked down it, enjoying the day’s striking, clear views of Oakland, the Bay, and San Francisco.
The group then came to a surprising sight. There on the edge of the street was a huge bolder. Next to it was a sawed-off, also huge tree stump that was on its side. They were obviously the results of the strong winds that Piedmont experienced last month. There was also an impressive gazebo, high on stilts, whose roof had been damaged. Quincy Dong suggested a “Free” sign should be placed on the bolder as a way of possibly getting it removed.
The walkers continued on to Wildwood Avenue and descended the very steep, last block of Portsmouth Road. They turned up Ranleigh Way and Harvard Road, so that they could say they went to Harvard. They then took Prospect Road to Wildwood, and a walk through Piedmont Park. However, the day’s exploring was not yet complete. Towards the top of the park’s upper trail is a 102 foot hidden path up to Hazel Lane, which the group took. They had passed it earlier on their Hazel loop walk, and could walk it now. Soon after there was another hidden path, this one 153 feet, up to Guilford Road. From there it was a short walk to the Community Hall.
The temperature had warmed up and some layers of clothes had been shed. It had been about a three mile walk in 90 minutes. It included Piedmont history, beautiful homes and streets, and fun curiosities with new and old friends. It was hard to image a more enjoyable way to spend a Wednesday morning.