Last Wednesday was a lovely morning when the Piedmont Recreation Department's Walking on Wednesdays group met, as usual, at the Exedra. It was another large group of 32 walkers and one K-9 best friend that came together. They were in a happy mood, but the Coronavirus and the impact it is having was on everyone's mind.
Ana Maria shared some research she had done on the disease's status. The group's consensus was that they should be mindful of recommendations from health professionals, but that careful, outdoor activity is a good thing. There was agreement that, unless public leaders provide different direction, the group will continue to gather and enjoy their walks together.
The group always enjoys seeing the entire length of a long, beautiful street, so they chose to walk the length (and back) of St. James Drive. The walk provided an opportunity to see the many different flowers that are now in bloom. Camellias from the winter were still present, but they were giving way to spring flowers. Early spring flowers - daffodils and tulip magnolias - were joined by cherry blossoms and other flowering fruit trees.
Mike pointed out an un- usual, beautiful Kaffir Lily at the edge of the Piedmont Park as the group headed up Highland, Sheridan, Wildwood, and Crocker Avenues to St. James Drive. The walkers passed the flower-rich Crocker Park that now has a gap in the foliage where the 90-year old Canary Island Pine once stood.
The walkers crossed the street on Hampton Road to be in the shade and, after walking up it past its intersection with Sea View Avenue, Tom Reese pointed out to the group what is an obviously very old, low brick wall. Tom told the group that this is the same walk that was in front of Wallace Alexander's home in the early 1900s. Drawing on Tom's knowledge, and some information in one of the Piedmont Historical Society's articles in the Post, the group learned that Alexander was one of Piedmont's most important philanthropists.
He was instrumental in the 1913 construction of the Piedmont Commercial Center, Piedmont's first stores, and the purchase of Piedmont Park land to save it from development.
He also was a driving force behind the construction of the Piedmont Interdenominational Church, which is now the Piedmont Community Church.
Alexander also established the Piedmont Boy Scout Council several years before the national organization was founded. In 1929 he leased land in Plumas County from the Forest Service to create Camp Wallace Alexander, the summer camp for Piedmont Boy Scouts for decades, The lease expired in 1982 and the camp was dissolved. The walkers enjoyed seeing this ancient piece of Piedmont, were impressed by what Alexander did for the city.
The group continued up Hampton to St. James Drive and to the two columns that they believed was once the entrance to "St. James Woods," the development project for this long street. The walkers could see there originally were lights on the top of the columns. Mike said the St. James homeowners once asked the City to put in new lights, but the expense exceeded the budget.
As the group walked down the street, they noticed that on both sides of the entire 3/4- mile length of the street, the sidewalk has a distinctive tile design that was part of the original development. Even when the sidewalks have been repaired, the tile de- sign has been maintained. At the end of the street it meets Park Blvd. with and Corpus Christi Church on the corner.
It was a longer walk than what the group usually takes, so they reversed their course and headed back down the street to the Exedra. On the way back, they noticed an impressive cactus garden that they somehow missed on the way up. Some of the group climbed the 104-foot path going up to Cambrian Avenue, then taking a short walk to reconnect with the other walkers. They passed through Crocker Park on the way back to the Exedra to enjoy its beauty. It was a little over a three-mile walk, with some unexpected Piedmont history.