The Piedmont Recreation Department’s Walking on Wednesdays group continued to have wonderful walking weather last Wednesday. It was a beautiful morning for a walk and 35 walkers and one K-9 best friend were on hand at Exedra to enjoy what turned out to be a long one.
When the group assembled it was noted that the next day was St. Patrick’s Day. A little research had found that Saint Patrick was a fifth-century Romano-Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland. He is the primary patron saint of Ireland. The dates of Patrick's life are uncertain, but there is general agreement that he was a missionary in Ireland during the fifth century. Saint Patrick's Day is observed on March 17th, the supposed date of his death. It is celebrated inside and outside Ireland as a religious and cultural holiday. It is also a celebration of Ireland itself.
Since it was March 16th, it wasn’t quite appropriate to have a St. Patrick’s Day walk and celebration. However, the walkers felt they could walk St. James Drive, the only Piedmont street that references a saint. A little more research had found that St. James was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, and was one of the first disciples to join Jesus. He and his brother John were with their father by the seashore when Jesus called them to follow him and be “fishers of men.” St. James was also the first to be martyred according to the New Testament. He died in 44 AD and is the patron saint of Spain.
In actuality, St. James Drive was named after St. James Woods, an early, very large Piedmont neighborhood development. St. James Drive is a seven tenths of a mile long street. It is lovely, flat, and easy to walk. Additionally, at its end on Park Boulevard, there were options for the walkers to continue on. They could either see Cavendish Lane, an Oakland street with four homes with Piedmont addresses, or cross over Park Boulevard and the Leimert Bridge to see the retail stores on the other side of the bridge. Both ways, this would be a long walk, and they decided to see what they felt like doing when they got to the end of St. James.
The group headed off, going up Highland Avenue to Sheridan and Wildwood Avenues, and then though the Hall Fenway to Crocker Avenue and Hampton Road. They went past Crocker Park to Hampton’s intersection with St. James Drive, where this street starts. This first St. James Drive block may have been an extension of St. James Drive because one block further down at La Salle Avenue are two large columns that marked one of the entrances to the St. James Woods development. The group noted that the columns are missing lanterns on their tops. Mike Henn told the story that at one time the neighborhood wanted the City to put new ones on them, but the residents and the City didn’t have the money to do it, so it never happened. The walkers also noted the distinctive four brown tiles that are inlayed in each section of the concrete sidewalks throughout the development.
The walkers took a short side trip up Cambrian Avenue so that they could walk down a 104 foot, hidden path between Cambrian and St. James. It is an old short cut between the streets, but doesn’t have handrails, so the walkers made their way down it carefully.
Once back on St. James the group continued on until they came to the bottom of a rocky hill with electrical power towers on top that was cut down its middle to make for a flat street. The exposed rock made for an attractive background of the attached group photo.
The group came to the end of St. James at Park, where the Corpus Christi Church is. There was still some time left in the morning and a vote was taken on what to do next. The walkers could return to town, go to Cavendish, or cross over the Leimert Bridge. A few walkers needed to go back, but in a close vote it was decided to cross over the bridge.
On the bridge is a plaque that tells its history. Its official name is the Sausal Creek Arch Bridge and it was completed in 1926. George Posey, Alameda County Surveyor and engineer of the Posey Tube between Oakland and Alameda, designed it. It is 257 feet long and 118 feet high. The Park Boulevard Company, which was owned by Walter and Harry Leimert, was responsible for building it and running a Key System streetcar line across it. The Leimerts wanted to develop an Oakmore Highlands neighborhood on the other side of the canyon. The bridge, with distant views of San Francisco, spans Dimond Canyon, which is far below, and was originally part of Antonio Maria Peralta’s land grant. There was once extensive lumbering in the area with great redwoods cut and floated down the creek to Lake Merritt and the Bay.
The walkers explored the retail block beyond the bridge. A highlight was Rocky’s Market, which was started in 1961 and sells local, organic produce and other items. Noemi Alvarado also shared that at the end of the block, up Arden Place, is a trail that goes all the way up to Highway 13.
There is always more to see, but it was getting close to noon, and time for the walkers to make their return to Piedmont’s town center. The group went back St. James and got back to their starting point after an almost five mile walk. It was one of the group’s longer walks, but on a beautiful morning with unexpected history, fun sights, and new and old friends, it seemed one of their most enjoyable ones too.