The sun was out again to greet the Piedmont Recreation Department’s Walking on Wednesdays group at the Exedra last Wednesday. There was a strong turnout of 34 walkers and one K-9 best friend on this sunny morning.
There were some surprising gusts of wind and a few clouds, but it was a sunny day, and that suggested a destination that seemed natural. The group had not recently been to Sunnyside Avenue on the south side of Piedmont, and the weather and street’s name seemed to be calling to them to return. Additionally, there is some interesting history associated with the buildings on the nearby Grand Avenue that would be fun for the group.
Before the walkers started off, a bit of curious history from Piedmont Historical Society president Gail Lombardi about this section of Piedmont was shared. In 1929 the Piedmont City Council adopted an ordinance that allowed businesses from the city line to Linda Avenue on the west side of Grand Avenue, and to Fairview Avenue on the east side. Seven months later voters rejected another zoning ordinance to extend the business district to Oakland Avenue. Today, the business district on Grand Avenue remains the same as it was in 1929.
The walkers went off in a long line going down Highland Avenue to the corner of Oakland Avenue. They turned down it, going past happy young people in the Havens kindergarten playground and many more, little larger, happy, young people on the school’s Becker Playfield. When the group reached Latham Street, they regrouped and shared with the new walkers, Patti Schneider and Jo Normington, another curiosity. Latham is the only “street” in Piedmont. All the other roadways are called “drives,” “ways,” or something else.
Going down Oakland there were early roses and cherry blossoms to enjoy, as well as recently remodeled homes and new construction. It took two stoplight cycles for all the walkers to get across Grand Avenue, and start down it to Sunnyside. They stopped at Linda Avenue and learned some more fun history from Gail Lombardi’s research. In 1892 Axel Gruggel built a restaurant on this corner that he called A Mon Chateau (My Castle). He also had a beer garden in the back on Linda. Over the years, the establishment had different owners, including three bachelors in 1907 who were denied a liquor license when they became available because neighbors didn’t like all of the restaurant’s noise. However, the bachelors continued to sell liquor, and in 1908 they were arrested and their liquor was confiscated. In 1911 a new owner changed the restaurant into “The Piedmont Casino,” where poker was played. But gambling was illegal, and the casino was raided in 1912. Nine card players were arrested and each was fined $55. Not surprisingly, the casino closed soon after. In 1914 the building became the Grand Avenue Grocery Company. It did well until a Piggly Wiggly supermarket opened down the street at Sunnyside. The competition was too much and it closed in 1935. The building was torn down in 1936 and a succession of gas stations occupied the space until 1987 when Chevron sold the property. The current two-story Piedmont Financial Center was built on the site. The walkers found this history interesting, but wished the beer garden was still there.
The group turned up Sunnyside and climbed to its intersection with Olive Avenue, where architect and former Piedmont Planning Commissioner Jim Kellogg pointed out a unique home. Jim said it is owned and was built by a general contractor. It has a circular turret ADU and a waving brick front wall that has a built-in seat. Sherry Jacobs took advantage of it for an unscheduled rest. The walkers posed for a group photo in front of the wall.
The walkers continued up Sunnyside and crossed Oakland Avenue. They decided to go through the Linda Avenue Dog Park as a courtesy to Jo Normington’s K-9 best friend Penny Lane. When they came out of the park they saw the Beach School children were on their playground enjoying recess. The walkers went down Linda Avenue, returning to the site of the A Mon Chateau beer garden, which unfortunately was still closed. They went down Grand and crossed it at the stoplight for the intersection with Wildwood Avenue. The group went up Wildwood passed a long EBMUD “Wildwood Avenue and Sylvan Way Pipeline Replacement Project” with signs saying it will go on through March. The walkers passed a small, triangular park with 15 tall redwood trees; and continue on Wildwood to a short set of stairs that took them to the foot of Warfield Avenue and the “Five Way Stop” intersection. They stayed on Wildwood, going past the Wildwood School, whose students were out having fun too.
The group came to the Piedmont Park’s lower entrance and took its upper path to the back of the Community Hall where happy preschoolers were playing in their enclosed yard, and a band of high school senior boys were having lunch on the steps below them. There was a realization that the walkers’ visit to Sunnyside Avenue had taken them to all three Piedmont elementary schools. All of them had happy, beautiful, young people doing what they do, and this added a little more sunshine to their Sunnyside day.