The noteworthy group that the Piedmont Recreation Department’s Walking on Wednesday has become received more recognition this week. The people at the Piedmont Living magazine had heard about the activity and wanted to do a feature on the group in their September issue. The magazine’s editor, Carrie Peacock, and photographer, Gary Schatan, were at the Exedra when the walkers assembled and took a photo of the group.
The news was also shared that on Wednesday, August 18th, Will Adams will lead a walk-by tour of eight Piedmont Julia Morgan designed homes for the group. Will is a planner, urban designer, and architect who has lived in Piedmont for thirty years. He has been writing regular "Walking Piedmont" articles for the Post that are "observations of the built environment of a beautiful city." On the tour he will discuss architectural design elements of these classic Julia Morgan homes.
It was a Piedmont cool morning for the twenty six walkers and one K-9 best friend when they assemble at the Exedra, but the walkers were dressed in layers and ready to visit some lovely and historical Piedmont streets.
The group enjoys Piedmont history and also seeing the places connected with historical spots. On recent walks the group had learned from Gail Lombardi’s Piedmont Historical Society articles of the creation of Piedmont’s current schools. The first, opened in 1911, was originally named The Bonita Avenue School, but was later renamed after its land donor, Frank C. Havens. The Lake Avenue School was opened in 1913, but was soon renamed the Egbert W. Beach School in honor of Egbert William Beach, who was the first Piedmont resident to give his life in World War I. However, these were elementary schools. There was no public high school in Piedmont until 1921 when Piedmont High opened.
Gail Lombardi’s articles in the Post have also told the story of a Piedmont school that no longer exists. At the turn of the twentieth century, Amy Requa Long wanted her daughters to have good educations, and she got Isaac Requa to build a one-room schoolhouse on his property for her. 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 additional 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 avoid sidewalk construction on Highland Avenue, and then down Highland to its corner with Hazel Lane, where Amy Long’s first schoolhouse once stood. They noted the site and continued up Hazel Lane to the tall redwood tree at 71 Hazel Lane, where the entrance to Ransom Bridges School was. They admired the tree, as well as the school’s other redwoods that are along the street. The group walked through the Hazel Lane loop to the school’s former site at 141 Hazel Lane and took a group photo there.
The walkers also noted the neighborhood’s first house at 152 Hazel Lane, and completed the loop and the rest of Hazel Lane which took them back to Highland Avenue. The day was still young, and there were more beautiful, interesting streets to see. The group walked to Caperton Way, up and across it to Sheridan Avenue. There the little-visited Richardson Way invited them to walk it; which the group did, and they came out on Lakeview Avenue. They went up a short portion of Lakeview, but another intriguing, little-visited street, Poplar Way, also beckoned them. This almost hidden street was also too inviting to pass up, so the group went up it.
The walkers emerged on Mountain Avenue. It was there that Nancy DeRoche answered a question of why were there so many redwood trees in this neighborhood. Nancy explained that the man who built the mansion above at Sea View and Lincoln Avenues was a lumber baron. He liked redwoods and planted the trees around his estate. Mary Carter also pointed out an old, tall sequoia in the middle of the street at Mountain and Bellevue Avenues that she said was watered by a cook who worked long ago in one of these beautiful homes. There was also a house right behind the walkers where Obama fundraising events with lots of Secret Service agents were once held. Additionally, the house just slightly up Mountain at Sea View was noted to have been used in Will Smith’s 2006 movie, Pursuit of Happyness (sic).
The group had enjoyed all the history, and this somewhat leisurely walk, but decided they would leave a climb up Bellevue for another day. They descended Mountain where they noted the home of the late Oakland Raider owner Al Davis, but also an unidentified man in the front yard of a home across the street. He is a slightly larger than life-size statue of a distinguished looking man in a suit that looks like it is made of animal belts. None of the walkers knew who he was, so they were free to make up stories as to his identity.
The walkers completed the walk going down Mountain to a 217 foot path that leads to Sierra Avenue and then down Highland and the walk’s starting spot. It had been about an enjoyable, two mile walk in little over an hour with new and old friends. It included history of Piedmont’s early schools and beautiful Piedmont streets with histories and curiosities all their own.
P.S. Jen Cavenaugh, our Piedmont City Council member, sent me the link below to an article in the Piedmont Exedra that speaks to the value of activities like Walking on Wednesdays. I enjoyed it and thought you might too. See https://piedmontexedra.com/2021/08/restoring-a-sense-of-belonging-the-unsung-importance-of-casual-relationships-for-older-adults