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Saturday we had amazing weather for an Oakland Urban Paths walk exploring Cleveland Heights and the nearby former estate of F. M. “Borax” Smith. This was a good follow on to last month’s walk in the former town of Brooklyn just south of Saturday’s walk.

During the walk I mentioned a Oakland map website that has a series of maps of Oakland, from 1877, 1912, 1936, 1950s, 1967 and present day. It’s a great way to see how Oakland has changed over the years. If you look at the 1912 map, you’ll see the outline of “Borax” Smith’s estate, Arbor Villa. The portion of the map shown here is even older, from about 1869, before Oakland annexed Brooklyn in 1872.

I also promised to provide a map in lieu of the one I didn’t have ready for Saturday. Here’s a link to a Google map with our route shown, but also some of the points of interest along the way, and as an added bonus, it also shows the approximate bounds of the Smith’s Arbor Villa estate and of the Mary R. Smith Home for Friendless Girls.

We started the walk at the Cleveland Cascade, designed by landscape architect Howard Gilkey and built in 1923. It was likely shut down during WWII, but was reactivated after the war. At some point it was turned off, fell into disrepair, and became overgrown and full of trash. In 2004, a group of neighborhood volunteers including Barbara Newcombe uncovered and cleaned up the cascade. Since then they’ve put in new railings and lighting, and are raising money to restore the water portion of the cascade. If you want to help, the Friends of the Cleveland Cascade has garden work parties on the first Saturday of each month.

From there we meandered across Cleveland Heights, keeping an eye out for gnomes, sidewalk stamps, murals and other things. We eventually crossed over Park Blvd. into the Ivy Hill neighborhood, and what was once the estate of “Borax” Smith, Arbor Villa. While the 42-room Oak Hall, gardens, out buildings and observation tower are all gone now, a row of palm trees marks one edge of what was once the estate. Seeing an old palm tree in Oakland is often a good sign that someone notable lived nearby, but the Arbor Villa palm trees are the best example.

Then it was back across Park Blvd. and along some buildings that are left from the Mary R. Smith Home for Friendless Girls. Frank’s first wife, “Mollie”, was inspired by Benjamin Farjeon’s Blade O’ Grass about orphans in London, and started an orphanage for girls. One of the “cottages” is an impressive structure at 3001 Park Blvd., which was designed by noted architect Julia Morgan. Our route back to the Cleveland Cascade took us past a home once owned by industrialist Henry J. Kaiser, some stairs at the end of Haddon Rd. that are no longer accessible, and down some beautiful stairs to Beacon St.

Another great walk! Thanks to everyone who came out for the walk, and to Tim for carrying the speaker. In March, we’ll have two walks, our regular second Saturday walk (location to be determined) and a special Women’s History Walk led by local historian and writer Annalee Allen. Hope to see you there!

Lots more pictures from the route (some taken during the test walk):


This post is a week late because I’ve been busy working on the Legendary Locals of Oakland book. Also note that I included some pictures in the slideshow at the end that are from when I did the test walk. It’s all things we saw on Saturday (except the cat and the squirrel), but that I didn’t have time to take during the walk.


“Oakland is nobody’s Brooklyn, but part of Oakland was once Brooklyn.”

We had an amazing turnout for last Saturday’s Oakland Urban Paths walk exploring the former town of Brooklyn. About 100 people and 8 dogs joined us as local historian Robert Perricone showed us around what was once a separate town east of Lake Merritt. Brooklyn was named for a ship that brought Mormon settlers to the area, not (directly) for the city in New York.

We started the walk in Clinton Square Park, which is another name from history. Moses Chase was the first American citizen to settle in what is now Oakland. He left his fiancee Mary Ellen Clinton to seek his fortune in California. After falling ill in the gold fields, Chase settled east of Lake Merritt and founded the town of Clinton, named for his fiancee. Sadly, she died before he returned to marry her. The town of Brooklyn was formed in 1856 by joining the settlements of Clinton and San Antonio.

We wound our way around various sites, some dating back to the town of Brooklyn or early Oakland, and some modern ones. Our final stop was one major building that’s no longer there, the Tubbs Hotel. It was a large, luxurious hotel, which covered the entire city block. Gertrude Stein’s family lived there for almost a year when they first moved to Oakland. As happens with many large, wooden structures, the Tubbs Hotel burned. There wasn’t enough water to fight the fire, so the fire became a spectacle with people coming to watch.

Stein left Oakland in 1891 after her parents died, and didn’t return until 1935. During that time, the Tubbs Hotel burned down, the family house torn down, Oakland’s population increased from 35,000 to nearly 300,000, and the bucolic neighborhood where the family had lived was now full of apartment buildings and nearby Highland Hospital. That’s what she meant by “there’s no there there”.

Thanks to everyone who came out for the walk, and many thanks to Robert for leading the walk. Below is a slideshow of photos, and below that are more links to the Oakland Wiki about some of the things we saw and talked about.

Pictures from our walk:

Saturday was our monthly Oakland Urban Paths walk, this time going from Lakeshore to Piedmont Avenue and back again. It’s a walk we’ve done before, but there were a few changes. About 35 people and 5 dogs joined us some perfect weather to explore Oakland.

From our start in Mandana Plaza, we climbed over the hill behind the Grand Lake Theatre, and around past the former Lakeview Elementary School. From the unusual pedestrian bridge over I-580, it’s easy to see what an impact the freeway (completed in 1966) had on the school (built in 1913). The school is now closed, and OUSD uses the space for offices. Over the bridge took us into Adams Point, named for Edson Adams, one of the ‘founding scoundrels’ of Oakland. For those that were wondering, Jayne Avenue is named for his wife, Hannah Jayne, who was Oakland’s first school teacher.

Several sets of stairs took us through the Harrison-Oakland / Harri-Oak neighborhood, down to Glen Echo Creek. The creek is also known as Cemetery Creek where it begins up in Mountain View Cemetery. It winds its way (sometimes in a culvert) all the way down to Lake Merritt, where it feeds in near the Veterans’ Memorial Building.

We walked over to Piedmont Avenue, and planned to meet up in Key Route Plaza after a short break. There we were disappointed to find that the wonderful Key Route Plaza mural by Rocky Rische-Baird had been destroyed. A new tennant, KronnerBurger, is moving into the space that used to be J’s Mexican American Diner. They said later on Twitter that the wall wasn’t properly supported (true, but fixable) and covered with black mold (possibly true, but also fixable). However, they made no effort to preserve the mural, and the artist and neighborhood residents are understandably upset.

We walked back towards our start along a different route, visiting some different sections of Glen Echo Creek. We eventually came to the Morcom Rose Garden, named for former mayor Fred Morcom. Up the hill on Jean Street took us to the top of some nice stairs, which led us down to Grand Avenue. From there, the Davidson Way steps took us back up the hill, then it was a short walk back to our starting point on Lakeshore.

Another great walk. Thanks to everyone who came out. The January walk is still being planned, but may be a walk around the former town of Brooklyn just east of Lake Merritt. Hope to see you then!

Lots more pictures from the walk:


Saturday we had perfect weather as about 40 people and 3 dogs joined Oakland Urban Paths for a walk exploring the pathways and stairways between Lakeshore and Park Blvd. It’s a walk we’ve done before, but there’s always more to see. And Paul changed things up a little from the last time, in part because a stairway was closed because the city is doing some repairs and upgrades on it.

Part of the area originally belonged to Peder Sather, who Sather Tower (the Campanile) and Sather Gate at UC Berkeley are named for. Jane Sather allowed some of it to be used as a park, and that was the main destination of people riding trains over the railroad trestle that gave Trestle Glen its name.

We heard from Gerry Montemorency, former head of the Lakeshore Homes Association, the second oldest homeowners association west of the Mississippi. Among other things, the LHA created and maintains Oak Grove park, a privately-owned public space. We also talked about landslides in the area, including the 1926 Lerida slide which led to the destructuion of several homes, and Lerida Avenue being renamed Balfour.

We wandered up stairways and pathways to Park Blvd. where we stopped for a coffee break near the former Glenview Library. We went back via a different route along different stairways. One of the houses we passed was designed by Julia Morgan, but everyone agreed it was not her best work. There’s also a house in the area (1041 Ashmount) designed by her mentor, Bernard Maybeck.

Another great walk, and the first half of a larger walk. We’ll do the second part in December, when we go from Lakeshore to Piedmont Avenue.

Lots more pictures from the walk:


We had a good turnout and perfect weather for Saturday’s walk in Butters Canyon with local historian Dennis Evanosky. We started our walk in front of fire station 25 on Butters Drive shortly after the morning fog burned off.

As we wound around the hills, Dennis told us some about the history and geology of the area. Of particular interest is the California state rock, serpentine, which is common in this area of the hills. Soil formed from serpentine tends to be poor in calcium and rich in things toxic to plants, so plants and trees grow sparsely. When poet Joaquin Miller first came to the area, the hillsides of what are now Joaquin Miller Park were largely bare. Miller planted thousands of trees, including oaks, redwoods, and the less popular eucalyptus and acacia. A number of streets in the area are named for Oaklanders who died in WWI, including Butters, Brunell, and Burdeck.

We stopped by the Naturfreunde, an Oakland German-American group. It started back in the 1920s as a strictly German speaking club, but now is open to all who support nature and Austrian-German-Swiss culture. Nearby we got our first glorious view, looking over Oakland from above Holy Dames University.

Further up Butters, we heard from Dolores, who is both a frequent OUP walk participant and a member of the Butters Canyon Conservancy that has been working since 2001 to preserve Butters Canyon and the local Peralta Creek watershed. With the exception of a couple of “pumpkin teeth” still sticking out, most of the canyon has now been preserved either through acquisition or conservation easements. The group is now working to remove invasive plants and help mitigate fire danger.

Then it was up the hill and across Joaquin Miller Rd. into Joaquin Miller Park. After Joaquin Miller died, part of the land became a city park, The Heights (Miller had called his 75-acre estate ‘The Hights’), and part became Sequoia Park, which was home to the Oakland Zoo for a few years. We saw some of the monuments that Miller erected, got another spectacular view, and finished the walk at The Abbey, Miller’s former home across from the end of Butters Drive.

Our walk took us briefly near the Woodminster Cascade. Usually the water isn’t running in it but it was Saturday, so after the walk I went back and took some pictures. I found out from some OPR workers that there was a wedding scheduled for later that afternoon.

Lots more pictures from the walk and of the Woodminster Cascade:


Saturday was a different kind of Oakland Urban Paths walk. Instead of focusing on a single area, we focused on a single person, noted architect Julia Morgan. She’s best known for designing Hearst Castle, but she designed over 700 buildings in California, including some noted examples here in Oakland. OUP co-founder Dan Schulman had his work cut out for him in planning the walk, as Morgan’s works are spread all over Oakland. About 50 people and quite a few dogs joined us for a longer than normal walk.

We started at the corner of Harrison and Bay Place in Adams Point. Although the building that now houses Whole Foods wasn’t designed by Julia Morgan, it has an interesting history, too. It was built as a powerhouse and car barn for the short-lived Consolidated Piedmont Cable Co.’s cable car line (yep, Oakland had cable cars for a time.) Next door the Piedmont Baths used the excess heat from the boilers to heat water for their pools. The building was later redesigned into a car dealership. Dan told us about Julia Morgan’s education at Oakland High School, UC Berkeley, and the prestigious École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where Morgan became the first woman to receive a certificate in architecture.

Our route took us past a number of Julia Morgan-designed houses, including several with ties to Oakland history. The McElroy House belonged to city attorney John McElroy, who is remembered with a fountain in Lakeside Park. The Joe & Rose Shoong House belonged to National Dollar Store founder Joe Shoong. Shoong and his son were generous with their fortune, and donated to a variety of causes including support for several attractions at Children’s Fairyland.

Some people elected to take a shorter route back to our start, while the rest of us headed towards Piedmont Avenue. There we saw a rare example of Julia Morgan’s commercial building designs, the Fred C. Turner Shopping Center. From there it was a short walk to the King’s Daughters Home. It was designed as a home for incurables, which in those days included people with the infirmities of old age or strokes, as well as those with diseases like tuberculosis that they had no cure for. Julia Morgan donated her work for the design, and after her brother Sam died, Morgan’s mother Eliza Morgan donated money for the special front gateway on Broadway.

The official end of our walk was in front of Chapel of the Chimes which Morgan did some design work on, and Mountain View Cemetery, where Julia Morgan and the rest of her family are buried beneath a modest marker. But a few diehards wanted to see the Morgan grave, so we continued on into the cemetery. We passed by the Ayer and Hockenbeamer graves, which Morgan is said to have designed the markers for, and I pointed out some other notable graves along the way, as well as told people about the Mountain View Cemetery tours given by docents.

Thanks to Dan for leading the walk and doing the needed research, and thanks everyone and everywoof who came on the walk, whether you turned back early or went all the way to the Morgan grave. Next month’s walk will be in Butters Canyon, led by local historian and author Dennis Evanosky. More details as they become available.

Some notable Julia Morgan designed buildings in Oakland that we didn’t visit (or we’d probably still be walking) include:

Lots more pictures from the walk:

Google map of our route.

The crew at Oakland Urban Paths is taking August off from our regular second Saturday of every month schedule. But have no fear! We’ll be back in September with another walk exploring Oakland.

In the mean time, here are some other walking resources to keep you busy:

Each organization and walk leader has a different approach to their walks, with a different mix of history, culture and walking. But all the walks are interesting and informative.

We also encourage you to get out and explore Oakland on your own!

October’s OUP walk will be exploring Butters Canyon with local historian Dennis Evanosky. Other ideas for upcoming OUP walks include the work of Julia Morgan, following the 10,000 Steps project downtown, and public art. We’re always looking for more ideas for walks around Oakland, so if you have an idea for a walk, go test it out and let us know.

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Saturday was an amazing Oakland Urban Paths walk through the Golden Gate district in North Oakland. It was also Love Our Neighborhood Day, with streets closed to vehicle traffic and opened to pedestrians and bikes, so in addition to the 70 or so people and 7 dogs who joined us for the walk, there were hundreds of people walking, biking, scootering, and skating in the streets.

The walk was organized by artist and cultural historian Sue Mark, who is working on a project called Finding Klinkner. She and her husband Bruce are probably better known as the creators of the 10,000 Steps Project in downtown Oakland, which placed dozens of sidewalk markers telling the stories of Oakland’s parks and people in downtown.

We started the walk at the Golden Gate branch library, where we heard from Ruby Bernstein, Oakland Library Commissioner, about the library, its history, and the programs it provides. We headed up San Pablo (and enjoyed the use of the street!) to 59th Street, where Sue Mark told us about Charles Klinkner and Klinknerville, the name of the Golden Gate district for a time. She spoke near the Gateway Market, former site of Klinkner Hall.

A short distance away, we passed the de Rome House, the family home Louis de Rome. The de Rome foundry cast the firehouse bell that is in front of the library, as well as the large elk statue in the Elk’s Club plot in Mountain View Cemetery. We also passed the 59th Street Firehouse, a historic firehouse that was converted into condominiums in the mid-1990s.

Then it was over to the Destiny Arts Center where Beatriz Chavez told us about the youth and adult programs there. We took a brief tour through the space, which is entirely lit with natural lighting. Just outside Destiny Arts is the North Oakland Farmers Market run by Phat Beets Produce. Several speakers including Susan Park and Toveo Hill told us about Phat Beets’ mission to bring affordable access to fresh produce to North Oakland, facilitate youth leadership in health and nutrition education, and connect small farmers to urban communities.

Further wandering (and one wrong turn by me!) led us past countless Victorians and other homes to the Golden Gate Recreation Center. It’s home to several colorful murals, and provides various programs to the community in addition to the basketball court and baseball diamond. The building is apparently due for some retrofit work.

Back out on San Pablo Avenue, we heard from long-time resident and SPAGGIA (San Pablo Avenue Golden Gate Improvement Association) organizer Laura Ingram. She told us about some of the changes in the neighborhood over the years, early voter registration efforts in the neighborhood, and the formation of SPAGGIA. Up San Pablo a ways took us past various Love Our Neighborhood activities to St. Columba Church, where for many years the congregation has remembered victims of violence in Oakland with a white cross with each individual’s name on it. St. Columba is across the street from Actual Cafe and Victory Burger, two local restaurants owned by neighborhood supporter (and one of the organizers of Love Our Neighborhood Day), Sal Bednarz. We’d seen him earlier on our walk, pedaling away on a bike-powered generator.

Winding around behind St. Columba, past A Place for Sustainable Living, and the headquarters of local non-profits Grid Alternatives and Rebuilding Together Oakland got us to a quieter spot where we heard from Joanne Dickerson Harper, who was born and raised in the neighborhood. She told us about growing up in the neighborhood, St. Columba Church and what its long-time involvement in the neighborhood, and the changes she’s seen over her lifetime in the neighborhood.

Around a few corners, and along the border with Emeryville took us to The Compound Gallery and Studios, where one of the co-founders, Matt Reynoso, told us about the gallery, the studios, and their unique “art in a box” subscription service. Some people looked around the gallery and the studios in back, while others observed a letterpress printing demonstration going on in the street in front. Unfortunately, the sun and breeze were causing the ink to dry out too quickly, but it was still fascinating to observe. (If you stuck around for more of the Love Our Neighborhood activities, you may have seen one a project by one of the artists currently in residence at the studios, a wooden walking suit.)

We were running a bit late, so we skipped going past the Fratellanza Club, a long-time Italian-American social club. Heading west brought us quickly into Emeryville, where we strolled along past more Love Our Neighborhood Day activities.

Our last stop was back in Oakland, at the Stanford Avenue Native Garden. There, environmental educator and semi-retired Merritt College professor Robin Freeman told us about what the area might have looked like before the Spanish came, as well as other bits of area history. Robin and his wife very kindly hosted us for water and watermelon in their backyard. Some people headed back to our starting point at the library, while others went to check out more of Love Our Neighborhood Day and get some lunch.

Many thanks to all the speakers, and thanks to your patience with the lack of a sound system and the difficulties of shepherding such a large group. It was great to have many of the streets closed down so we could walk where we wanted. But we don’t usually get that on Oakland Urban Paths walks, which occur the 2nd Saturday of every month, in various locations around Oakland. Check the calendar for the date and location of upcoming walks.

Lots more pictures from the walk and from Love Our Neighborhood Day:


Saturday about 40 people and half a dozen dogs joined Oakland Urban Paths for a walk starting at the former 16th Street Train Station. Two common threads through the walk were “parks, places and people”, and earthquakes, railroads and freeways. Many forces have shaped Oakland over the years, but the latter are three of the big ones. It didn’t take long into our walk to see evidence of all them.

For many years, Oakland was the terminus of the first transcontinental railroad, and that opened up the way to more immigration from the rest of the U.S., and opened new markets for California products to be shipped elsewhere. The 16th Street station replaced the earlier train station on 7th Street in 1912. But the 16th Street station was badly damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, and Amtrak service moved to Jack London Sqaure and Emeryville in 1994. The 1906 earthquake brought more than 100,000 refugees from San Francisco, many who stayed in Oakland even after San Francisco rebuilt.

After crossing Mandela Parkway, where the Cypress Structure stood until the 1989 earthquake, we stopped at de Fremery House to hear from architects Philip Banta and Norman Hooks. They’ve envisioned a West Oakland Walk (W.O.W.) as as a network of “Parks, Places and People”. It’s an urban design concept to leverage central city assets into a “green social circuit” for walking, biking, organic gardening, exercising and meeting friends, activities that build sustainable communities. We followed about 3.5 miles of their 4.5 mile loop.

A short walk took us past numerous beautiful homes, including the historic Hume-Willcutt House, where Joseph Willcutt, director and secretary of the Southern Pacific Railroad lived. Keeping with the earthquake part of the thread, the house lost an ornate brick chimney in the 1989 earthquake. Then it was to the I-980 freeway. It divides West Oakland from downtown, even though they are a short distance from each other. Historically there was much more interaction between the two because they’re adjacent, but now a large, physical and psychological barrier limits the interaction to a few noisy overpasses.

Looping through Frank Ogawa Plaza downtown, we saw what appeared to be a small press conference. I ran into some of the participants later, and it turns out they were shooting a small scene from an independent movie about the Occupy movement. After stops at the African American Museum and Library of Oakland and the First Unitarian Church (badly damaged in both the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes), we crossed back over the freeway.

On our way along 14th Street, we stopped at the Cypress Freeway Memorial Park, which remembers the victims of and first responders to the freeway collapse during the Loma Prieta quake. After the remains of the double-decker freeway were removed, the neighborhood fought to have the new freeway routed elsewhere. Now the parkway is a lovely open space, and the adjacent neighborhoods were rejoined.

A great walk. Thanks to everyone and everywoof who came out for it, and special thanks to Phil Banta and Norman Hooks for sharing information about the West Oakland Walk, and some of Oakland’s parks, places and people. Next month’s walk will be Saturday, July 12, in the Golden Gate district in north Oakland.

To learn more about some of the parks, places and people we talked about, see this list of pages on the Oakland Wiki.


If you enjoyed the walk and want to learn more, or if you missed the walk, the Oakland Heritage Alliance will be covering some of the same route in August. They won’t be doing the full 4.5 mile loop either, but will start at Lake Merritt and end at the 16th Street Station. Besides Oakland Urban Paths and the Oakland Heritage Alliance, the city of Oakland also does downtown walking tours. See a more complete list of Oakland walking tours on the OaklandWiki.

After the walk, if you noticed a couple of people working the soil in front of the train station, they were doing prep work for the WOW Farm. It’s part of an youth entrepreneur program with the Game Theory Academy, whose mission is “to improve the economic decision-making skills and provide opportunities to low-income youth who have experience with juvenile justice, foster care and homelessness.” They’ll be using some of the space in front of the train station to grow cut flowers.

Lots more pictures from the walk:

Here is a map of our (approximate) route (we cut down San Pablo instead of Telegraph.)

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