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Walking with Wallace Alexander

Last Wednesday was beautiful and there was a strong turnout of 50 walkers and two K-9 best friends at the Exedra for our Piedmont Recreation Department's Walking on Wednesdays' weekly walk.

An article by Piedmont Historical Society on March 13, 2019 about Wallace Alexander was reprinted in the Post provided an inspiration for the day's walk. The walkers were asked what historical figures they could think of who have Piedmont streets or buildings named after them. Frank C. Havens, Walter Blair, Hugh Craig, and even Isaac Requa came to mind; but Wallace Alexander was not named. In fact, he made significant contributions to Piedmont, but there is no public space recognition of him.

Drawing on the article, which is titled "Wallace M. Alexander - Piedmont's Philanthropist," the group learned about Alexander and his contributions. In 1912 he was instrumental in the construction of Piedmont's first commercial center, which was just across the street from where we were. In 1916 Alexander arranged for the purchase of land for the Piedmont Interdenominational Church, which is now the Piedmont Community Church. Next Alexander organized the purchase in 1921 of land in upper Piedmont Park land from the widow of Frank C. Havens for Piedmont High School. Additionally, Alexander helped establish the Piedmont Boy Scout Council in 1921.

We decided to see some of what Alexander created. The group crossed Highland and went past the Piedmont commercial center that replaced the one Alexander developed. We went down Highland Way and passed the Piedmont Boy Scout Council office and the Community Church. We then turned up Mountain Avenue and climbed to Sea View Avenue. However, we were shocked that the giant sequoia at the traffic circle at Mountain and Bellevue Avenues was no longer

there. A notice posted said that for several years the City had the tree on a health watch list. The tree had gotten worse and an arborist consultant recommended its removal. That's what happened on September 22nd.

We went down Sea View to the northern edge of Alexander's former estate, which ran from 87 Sea View to Hampton Avenue. More of Alexander's history was shared. He was born in Maui in 1869, and his family was a leader in the Hawaiian sugar industry. They moved to the Bay Area so that Wallace could attend school in Oakland. He married his Oakland High School classmate, Mary

Baker, in 1904, and they chose a large site on the corner of Sea View and Hampton, which was then called Union Street, for their home. The Alexanders built a three-story mansion that they named "Brown Gables" for its large, brown painted dormers. There was also a carriage house to the west which is now the home at 84 King Avenue.

In 1911 Alexander's mother built her own home at 92 Sea View across the street from Brown Gables, and Mary's mother built a home further down the street at 236 Sea View. These homes are still there, but Brown Gables no longer exists. After Alexander died from a stroke in 1939, his wife followed his wish that the mansion be torn down, and the land subdivided into 13 lots

that were sold, so that more families could live in Piedmont. The six, current homes from this spot on the west side of Sea View down to Hampton were built from 1936 to 1956. They are of a newer architectural style than the large, older homes that were built north of the Brown Gables estate.

We continued on and found 92 Sea View, Alexander's mother's beautiful, 15,650 square foot home. An interesting reminder of the Alexanders is in front. Inlays in the sidewalk spell the word "Kailani." Lani means heaven, or heavenly in Hawaiian. So, Kailani means "heavenly sea", or "heavenly seaside." The walkers then crossed Hampton and continued up Sea View to see the home of Mary's mother. A "For Sale" sign was in front. For $7,950,000 this 6,966 square foot piece of Piedmont history can be yours.

We then went down Farragut Avenue to King Avenue and walked up it to see the Alexanders' former carriage house at 84 King, which is being extensively remodeled. Across the street is Crocker Park, the land for which Alexander donated to the City. We continued up to Lincoln Avenue and back to the city center with a better understand of Wallace Alexander and his service to

Piedmont. The group all agreed he should be better recognized and remembered by Piedmont for it.


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