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Robert McNamara Walk

The Piedmont Recreation Department’s Walking on Wednesdays group enjoys learning about Piedmont’s history, but they also enjoy just seeing unique streets, and especially ones that are seldom visited. Either way, it seems there is always something new to see and learn.

It was thought that last week’s walk would be just a fun exploration. However, Piedmont Historical Society heard the group was planning on going to the streets, back alleys, and paths between Windsor and Ranleigh/Harvard and another alley behind Oakmont Avenue; and suggested they might enjoy seeing the childhood home of PHS alum Robert McNamara. He was part of a group World War II veterans who became Ford Motor Company executives and were known as the “Whiz Kids.” McNamara became president of Ford and later was President Kennedy’s secretary of defense. He lived at 1036 Annerley when he was growing up. So, the walkers could see some new streets this morning, and get some Piedmont history too.

There was a strong turnout of 31 walkers at the Exedra on this chilly, foggy morning.

The morning’s first destination was the path between the homes at 216 and 220 Wildwood Avenue that goes down to the back alley between Winsor Avenue and Ranleigh Way/Harvard Road, and the homes’ garages. The group went down Highland and Wildwood Avenues, past Wildwood School, to the lower Wildwood Avenue street. With the assistance of Nancy and Mike Henn, who live a few doors away, the group found the path and went down it. They emerged at the top of the long alley behind the homes. As they walked down it they examined a former garage that is now an almost completed ADU. There are also large, old palm and sequoia trees along the way.

The group had a short walk on Harvard before crossing into Oakland and coming to Lakeshore Avenue. There are more, large, old palm trees to admire. The walkers went up Lakeshore in search of another destination, Portsmouth Walk. It is a path that uniquely has its own street sign. However, long time walker Priscilla Wanerus remembered that just beyond the path is a garage door that is painted as a mural. She thought the group would enjoy seeing it too. It’s a painting of a young boy and a horse peeking out of a stable. As the walkers gathered in front of the garage, the homeowner came out wondering who the walkers were. After introductions, Martin Levy told the group that about 30 years ago his wife commissioned a local painter, Peter Lee, to paint their son with a “black beauty” horse. Martin came home from work and was surprised by what he saw on the garage. Martin’s son in the painting and the group’s young walker, Kabir, seemed to be just about the same age, and the attached photo of the two was taken. When the group bid goodbye to Martin he told them to look for “Death’s Door,” a gate along Portsmouth Walk. All around the gate and fence are cactuses, broken ceramics, and other fun decorations.

At the top of Portsmouth Walk is Annerley Road and a few houses down it is Robert McNamara’s childhood home.

The group then reversed their steps and went up Annerley to Harvard Road, looking for and finding another destination, a hidden path that took them up to a back alley between Harvard and Oakmont. Lois Price lives nearby. She didn’t know if the alley has a name, so the group decided that it should be called “Lois Lane.”

The return to the Community Hall continued by going up Oakmont to Prospect Avenue. There was a quick side trip by Sherry Jacobs and Quincy Dong to see the top of the steep Prospect Drive cul-de-sac while the rest of the group watched from below. This actually appears to be just another garage access alley for the adjacent homes. There is no street sign identifying this road as “Prospect Drive,” but that is what Google Maps calls it, and the group agreed that Google knows everything. The last leg of getting to the Community Hall was the path through Piedmont Park. Another, close look at Google Maps identified the path as the “Prospect Mountain Trail.” This was a new name for group, but this had been a day of learning new things.

Maulshree Solanki said her son’s name is taken from the Indian mystic and poet Kabir, who was a disciple of the Hindu ascetic Ramananda. Kabir is considered both a Sufi and Brahmin saint. The group doesn’t know if Kabir is a saint all the time, but he was wonderful on this Wednesday walk. He expressed no issues with its three plus miles, and he shared observations for Maulshree to record in his Explorer's notebook. Besides “Wildwood secret path, fun stones, and mint,” Kabir also noted that there were “zero mushrooms.” The rest of the walkers didn’t see any mushrooms either, but they did see a fine young man who is welcome any time on a Wednesday walk. He’s another Piedmont whiz kid.


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