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Scenic Steps Walk

Photo from Albert E. Norman collection

Once again our Piedmont Recreation Department's Walking on Wednesdays group got lucky with the weather last week. After rain on Tuesday, Wednesday morning was sunny and cool, but no clouds. The sky was clear and the views of Oakland, the Bay, and San Francisco would be excellent from Piedmont's hills. Some walkers had been indoors for a couple of days because of the rains, and more rain was forecast for the weekend, so there was a window and incentive on Wednesday to get outside. There was a large turnout of 49 walkers and three K-9 best friends on hand at the Exedra to enjoy this beautiful day. As you know, we try to walk every safe Piedmont street during the year. I have a map of Piedmont and after each walk I colored over the streets we have gone to. However, there was a set of wonderful, easily accessible streets we didn't get to last year. They were Pala, Mesa, and Monte Avenues, just above Highland Avenue. We could also take the steps between Pala and Scenic Avenue and go up to Scenic and Bell Avenue where the views would be great. That was the plan for the morning. Before going to Pala, we decided to check on the new pool construction at Magnolia and Bonita Avenues. However, it was disappointing because there is a green fence around the entire site that hides what is happening. There was only the sound of demolition being done. We went up Bonita, turned up Vista Avenue, and went past the Havens School playground. It was recess time and the kids' noise rivaled that of the construction work. We turned left on Highland and headed up to Pala Avenue. We went up it and then took a left on Mesa. The homes in this neighborhood were built soon after the San Francisco Earthquake when Piedmont became a city in 1907 and home construction boomed. These streets were part of Wickham Havens' (Frank C.'s son) Alta Piedmont Track and Alta Heights development. On Mesa, a wonderful gray and white Victorian built in 1907 was a walk stopper. The arched portico, varied leaded glass windows, a gable, and other design features make this home a visual treat. There were more great residences on the street to enjoy, including many cedar shake shingle homes. We continued to Moraga Avenue, went up to and down Monte. Meghan Bennett shared that her parents live on Monte and she provided some history about the house. It is a unique, L-shaped, buff tone brick exterior home that was built in a mission style in 1906. It has a hipped, varied red tile roof, twin towers, and columns supporting a portico. Architect Jim Kellogg called it "absolutely gorgeous." Garrett Clifford, who lives nearby, said it is his favorite Piedmont home. While we were admiring the house, Eric Havian, Meghan's dad, who is recovering from a bicycle accident, came out on crutches and greeted us. After visiting with Eric, we went back to and up Pala to the Scenic Pala Steps. We climbed the 161 foot path and turned up Scenic. We stopped at a bend in the street where there is an expansive view of Oakland, the Bay, and San Francisco. This open space provided a great spot for the attached group photo with a beautiful background, but some of us needed to hold on to our hats to keep them from being blown off by the gusting wind. I'm also attaching a great 1907 photo that Meghan provided of the view at that time. We continued up Scenic to Alta Avenue and then back to Scenic for a climb up to Bell Avenue. A phone app said the elevation on Bell was 636 feet. The views were truly impressive and well worth the climb. It was good exercise, but we were happy the return to the city center was downhill. It was an enjoyable three mile hike with wonderful homes, history, and views on a beautiful, clear Wednesday morning.

Look closely at Meghan’s c1907 photo of Wickham Havens’ Alta Tract. Havens was fond of palm trees, and here he planted palms as street trees. In the photo, they are very young, but they continued to grow into the 1940s or 1950s when they were replaced by the current street trees.

Wickham also planted palms as street trees on the last two blocks of today’s Wildwood Avenue. Wickham Havens home was on the northwest corner of Wildwood and Sheridan Avenues. It has since been replaced by 4 mid-century houses.

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