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Sunnyside Wall Walk

Last Wednesday was a cooler than usual morning for the Piedmont Recreation Department’s Walking on Wednesdays walking group. But 28 walkers and one K-9 best friends were at the Exedra at their normal start time and ready to go.

The group was there to enjoy a morning walk with friends, but also to complete some unfinished business. In February the Post had reported on a Piedmont City Works retaining wall project on San Carlos Avenue, and the group walked down to see it on March 2nd. This wall was one part of a two-walls City project. The second wall was at Sunnyside and Oakland Avenues and it was completed last year. The total cost of both walls was $611,000. The walkers were interested in seeing the second wall, and also understanding what $611,000 buys in today’s market.

A walk to the second wall and Sunnyside would also take the group across the Oakland Avenue Bridge. It had a construction project of its own in 2019 when guardrails were installed on both sides of the road. Additionally, the walkers could go up Sunnyside to Lake, Linda, and Rose Avenues and see the northwest side and boundary of Piedmont. There was lots to see and enjoy.

However, before the group headed out they were given early notice of some special, future walks. On April 20th and 27th Hope Salzer will take the walkers on two sneak preview tours of two Piedmont gardens that are part of the 18th Annual “Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour and Green Home Features Showcase.” After that, on May 4th, former Piedmont mayor Bob McBain will host the walkers on a visit to Tyson Lake at the back of his Sotelo Avenue home.

With the announcements complete, the walkers started off, going down Magnolia Avenue past the high school. In the block beyond it they found City workers planting a set of young “ACER freemanii Autumn Blaze” trees in the car strip between the street and sidewalk in front of a home. It was remembered that a number of trees along Magnolia had to be removed a year or two ago.

The group took a right and went down the 300 block of El Cerrito Avenue where, just before coming to Oakland Avenue, Dick Carter pointed out his childhood home that his parents bought in 1955 for $19,000. He also noted the liquidambar tree in the car strip in front of the house that is still noticeably larger than the other trees around it because of all the watering his father did over many decades.

In a long line the walkers continued down Oakland, across Grand Avenue to the foot of the Oakland Avenue Bridge. The sidewalk on the left side of the bridge was closed to foot traffic, so the group crossed the street and proceeded up the bridge with its relatively new guardrails, which were an improvement made in 2019. This project was part of the Piedmont Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan that was adopted by the City Council in 2014. The guardrail project was made possible by a matching grant secured by then Vice Mayor, now Mayor Teddy King from the Alameda County Transportation Commission. The guardrail project’s total cost in 2019 was $414,000, which seems high until you think about what retaining walls cost today.

When the walkers got to the top of the bridge, some information from the Piedmont Historical Society research was to be shared. However, there was street construction going on with a backhoe moving asphalt and making noise that drowned out the walkers’ conversation. The group walked a little way up Sunnyside to escape the noise, and asphalt smell, and historical information was finally shared.

The Oakland Avenue Bridge was the historic entrance to Piedmont. Albert Farr designed it in 1910 as a significant entrance to Piedmont. Farr used the same Spanish design that he had used in the Piedmont City Hall and the Bonita Avenue School, which later became Havens School. The bridge replaced an old wood trestle that was built in 1890 for the cable cars that served the area in its early years. The bridge was built in 1911 by Engineer John Buck Leonard of Union City, Michigan, who was a pioneering bridge engineer, architect, and early advocate for reinforced concrete. There are architectural motifs such as steep walls and overhangs which were once used to prevent entry into medieval fortresses. This seemed appropriate then and now for Piedmont. It is a concrete arch bridge over Linda Avenue with a 160 foot arch span and retaining wall supported approaches in a closed spandrel concrete deck arch design. The largest span is 159.1 feet and the total length is 343.2 feet, which is more than a football field. The relatively new lampposts, lights, and now the guardrails make the Oakland Avenue Bridge a lovely entrance to the city, and the guardrails make the bridge safer for walkers.

Across the street was the second retaining wall that the walkers were looking for. It is bigger than the one on San Carlos, and made a good background for a group photo.

The walkers continued up Sunnyside, admiring the homes and gardens that included an elevated home on their left with brown shingles, leaded glass windows, and a turret. The group took a right on Lake Avenue and went down its steep hill to Linda Avenue with Beach School across the street. They walked up Linda to the lovely Linda Kingston Triangle. A plaque said this garden was built in 2016 and made possible through the support of nearby residents, the Piedmont Beautification Foundation, Tree Sculpture and Terra Landscape, and the Piedmont City Council and Park Commission. A handsome, stone bench is built into the wall, but the walkers did not have time to fully enjoy it.

The group crossed Linda and went a short distance up it to Rose Avenue. It was reported that this is one of the oldest streets in Piedmont. Actually, only the south side of the street is in Piedmont. The Oakland/Piedmont city line runs through the middle of it, and its north side homes are in Oakland. As the walkers made their way down the street they noted a beautiful, restored, gray with white trim "Cottages & Castles" Victorian. A set of stairs leads up to its front door and there are a turret and two gables as part of its roof. A Zillow search said the home was built in 1894. It was an unexpected delight. At the end of the street is another striking home, primarily because of its purple and pumpkin orange exterior.

The walkers used the stop light to cross Pleasant Valley/Grand Avenues, and went down to and up Arroyo Avenue to Monticello Avenue. They noted a hidden pathway that goes up to the Lorita Avenue cul-de-sac, which they had missed on a previous walk. The group took a quick right on Ramona Avenue and made their way to the well named Bonita Avenue. A right on Bonita brought the group back to Magnolia Avenue. They passed lovely cedar shake shingle homes, draught tolerant gardens, pink dogwoods, emerging red bud blossoms, primroses, and other front yard beauty; as well as Havens School playground enthusiasts. The walkers emerged on Magnolia and it was just a one block walk back to their Exedra starting point.

There was a little, friendly debate about the total distance they had covered, as dueling walking apps had different answers, but 2 ½ to 3 miles was the general consensus. The exact number didn’t matter. It had been a great walk with walls, a grand bridge with guardrails, historic and colorful homes, and so much more, all experienced with walking friends.


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