Saturday was the monthly Oakland Urban Paths walk, this time focused on Oakland’s parklets. A ‘parklet’ is taking over one or two parking spaces and making them available to people, by extending the sidewalk into a seating area. The walk was led by Chris Kidd of OUP and Ruth Miller, an urban planner who was instrumental in getting parklets introduced to Oakland when she worked with Walk Oakland Bike Oakland. We were joined by 40+ people and half a dozen dogs.

The first known parklet of was an art project by Rebar Art and Design Studio in San Francisco in 2005. They rolled out sod, set down a potted tree, and to keep things legit, fed the parking meter as needed. That’s how a number of cities have gotten into it, with parklets as temporary structures. Read about Park(ing) Day 2011 in Oakland.

The first official and more or less permanent parklet was in 2010 in San Francisco. Oakland got into the swing of things, and now has two parklets, with more in the works. We started our walk at the first permanent parklet, outside Farley’s East. Chris and Ruth told us a bit about parklets, and then we headed uptown.

At 28th and Broadway, we headed over towards Glen Echo Creek. These days it’s largely underground, but given the topography it’s pretty easy to figure out about where it is. We climbed stairs on the other side of the creek, past the historic First Christian Church, to Oak Park. While it’s an official city of Oakland park, it doesn’t feel a whole lot bigger than a parklet. It’s part of what was a school that was converted into condominiums.

Back down the hill, across Glen Echo Creek, under I-580 and around some corners, and we crossed Glen Echo Creek again. We headed up to Piedmont Avenue, and then beyond to Howe Street and 40th. There’s an odd set of streets, with 40th Street running into 40th Street Way, and 40th Street itself continuing half a block to the southwest. The odd bit of street layout is because 40th Street used to be a cut through the hill that the Key System followed. The tracks then curved around to the northeast, and into what is now the Key Route Plaza that we saw on our December Walk and Shop.

Then it was down 40th to Manifesto Bicycles and the site of the second permanent parklet. We heard more about parklets, what’s involved in creating them, and what’s planned for the future. Several more parklets are in the permit and build process, including one on Lakeshore and one outside Actual Cafe at Alcatraz and San Pablo, as well as one on 25th Street between Telegraph and Broadway. From there people could either walk to Broadway to catch a bus, walk straight down Broadway for a quicker walk back, or stick with us for a few more meanderings. We went through Mosswood Park, back across Broadway, and across Glen Echo Creek one more time.

Another great walk. Thanks to Chris and Ruth for leading it, and to everyone and everywoof who turned out for it! Check the Oakland Urban Paths website for details on the next OUP walk, which will Saturday, May 11th at 10am. Hope to see you then!

Lots more pictures from Saturday’s walk:

Saturday we had perfect weather for the largest ever turnout for an Oakland Urban Paths walk. There were 70+ people and at least 6 dogs who joined us to explore Oakmore Highlands and Sausal Creek.

streetcar crossing the bridge
photo from Oakmore Homes Association

We started by crossing the Leimert Bridge. It was built in 1926 by developers Harry and Walter Leimert so they could develop Oakmore Highlands. It originally had Key System streetcars running over it as well as cars and pedestrians. In 1947 the poles used for supporting the streetcar power lines were converted to street lighting. The 117-foot high concrete arch bridge was designed by engineer George Posey, who also designed the tube to Alameda.

Back across the bridge, we headed up the Bridgeview Path stairs. The stairs were built when the original development was, but had fallen into disrepair. After some resistance from the city, they finally agreed to fix them up, with the proviso that the homeowners keep them clean. In 2005 there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the reopening of the stairs. Compared with many stairs around Oakland, these ones are now in great shape, with repaired concrete and new railings.

We walked up and down more stairways, and I pointed out the WPA stamps in one set that date them to 1939. I also pointed out some sidewalk stamps, and mentioned Andrew Alden‘s method of estimating the age of a neighborhood. Up several streets, passing lots of beautiful homes and some lovely views, we made it to the high point of our journey. The house there is marked by a mailbox labeled “Hilltop House”. We even saw a red-tailed hawk soaring overhead. Past more houses (including that of Mayor Jean Quan) we came to a dirt path at the end of a cul-de-sac. That led us to some wooden stairs, which led us to the back of the Mormon Temple property.

Mormon Temple

Before touring the grounds, we talked a bit about the temple. The temple was built in 1964, and a NY Times article a few years ago said it has an approximately $35,000 per month electric bill. If you’ve ever seen the temple at night, it’s not hard to see why—the brightly-lit temple is visible from all over the Bay Area at night. One of our walkers who lives not far away related two things: (1) the light from the temple is bright enough to light up her house (2) back during the rolling brownouts, the temple complied with requests to power down to ease the demand on the electrical grid. The FAA quickly requested they turn the lights back on, because the temple is used as a landmark for pilots flying under visual flight rules (VFR). We walked across the immaculately maintained grounds, and then to the base of the temple to take in the views.

Then we headed to Monterey Blvd. which parallels highway 13. A short, unexpected tunnel led us under the freeway to the corner of Joaquin Miller Park, and the former site of Camp Dimond. It was a Boy Scout camp from 1919 until 1948, and along with cabins and other permanent structures, it featured a 300,000 gallon pool with a special sand filtration system.

We headed back under the freeway and down to the trail head for the Bridgeview Trail. There, volunteers with Friends of Sausal Creek were finishing up a morning of working to restore and protect the watershed. The trail descends to the creek and back up the other side of the canyon, then is relatively flat, running almost down to the bridge where we’d started. But it was quite a change from the streets and stairs we’d been on up to that point.

Thanks to everyone and everywoof who came out for the walk. I hope you had as much fun on the walk as I did leading it! Special thanks to area resident John Tuttle who told us about the history of the Leimert Bridge and Oakmore Highlands, and to Megan from Friends of Sausal Creek who told us about the work that FOSC does to restore and protect the watershed.

The next Oakland Urban Paths walk will be Saturday, April 13th. We’ll be exploring Oakland’s parklets.

Lots more pictures from the walk:

We had another great turnout for Saturday’s Oakland Urban Paths walk from Lakeshore to Park Boulevard. The number of participants has been growing steadily over the last couple of years. When Paul led this walk in January, 2012 we had 18 people and 3 dogs; Saturday we had 50+ people and at least 4 dogs. (Though to be fair, the weather wasn’t as good that day as the gorgeous weather we had Saturday.)

We started on Trestle Glen near Lakeshore Ave. near one of the ornate gateposts that date back to the early 1900s when the area was first developed. The streets were laid out by the Olmstead brothers, and some of the houses designed by noted architects Julia Morgan and Maybeck & White. You may recall that Mt. View Cemetery was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the father of the Olmstead brothers. Read more about the history of the Lakeshore area on the Lakeshore Homeowners Association (LHA) website.

Then we headed up Mandana Blvd. and up our first set up stairs into Oak Grove Park. It’s a privately-owned park between lots on Mandana and Longridge. Heading back across Mandana, it was time for stairs, stairs, stairs! Some of these stairs I worked on last fall with a group Oakland Pathways Volunteers to clean them up. This is exactly the sort of neighborhood effort Oakland Urban Paths would like to see all around Oakland. While the cleanup efforts have made the steps a lot easier to navigate, there’s still a lot of work to be done on some of them to repair the steps themselves.

The neighborhood is known as Trestle Glen, for the rail trestle that once crossed the canyon to Sather Park. That was built in 1893 by F.M. “Borax” Smith, the real estate magnate of the Realty Syndicate who eventually developed the Key System. Before that it was known as Indian Gulch, named by early Anglo settlers for the seasonal Ohlone village there.

We then walked into Crocker Highlands, once part of the William H. Crocker (son of Charles Crocker of the “Big Four”) estate. The area is full of beautiful homes, many also dating back to the original development. That was started in 1911 by Wickham Havens, son of Frank Havens of the Realty Syndicate.

Going up and down lots more stairs and some hilly streets, we eventually reached Park Boulevard, and stopped for a coffee break and for people to catch their breath after all the climbing to get there. We returned to our starting point by a different set of stairs and streets, and many people headed off in search of lunch on Lakeshore or nearby Grand Avenue.

Another great walk! Thanks to everyone and everywoof who came out to join us. The location for the OUP walk in March hasn’t been set yet, but it will be on Saturday, March 9th (the 2nd Saturday, as usual).

Lots more pictures from the walk:

Let me know if you have photos from the walk you’d like to share.

Saturday we had an amazing turnout for the monthly Oakland Urban Paths walk. At least 65 people and 7 dogs joined us for a walk exploring Cleveland Heights and the site of the former “Borax” Smith estate. It was a chilly but beautiful morning, and the view over Lake Merritt was breathtaking.

We started the walk at the Cleveland Cascade. Designed by landscape architect Howard Gilkey in the 1920s, the cascade had 3 levels of 7 steps each. Each step had a bowl that made a curved sheet of pouring water. At each side were shell-shaped brackets, behind which were lights running through the colors of the rainbow. Over time, the cascade and nearby steps became rundown and overgrown. Barbara Newcombe was part of the original group that helped rediscover and uncover the stairs back in 2004, and was there on Saturday working on the stairs. Since 2004, the Friends group has cleaned up and maintained the stairs, installed new railings and LED lighting, and created new fixtures that will be installed when enough money has been raised. These days the stairs are heavily used, by people walking between Cleveland Heights and Lake Merritt, by people exercising, or just looking to get a different view of the lake. Read more about the Cleveland Cascade from in last year’s OUP: Jane’s Walk.

We walked up the steps along the Cascade and around to Cleveland Street. Area maps show a right of way between the top of the Cascade and Cleveland Street, but there are no signs that steps were ever built there. The question of “what neighborhood is this?” led to questions about the boundaries of Cleveland Heights, other names for smaller areas within it like Haddon Hill, and the general question of “what’s a neighborhood?” The main take-away is that neighborhood boundaries are fuzzy at best. Even though my Oakland Neighborhoods map has clear boundaries, the reality is that it depends on who you ask.

Along our way east, we admired some of the beautiful houses and apartment buildings, pieces of street art large and small, and of course I was checking out sidewalk stamps. They can give clues about the age of a neighborhood.

We crossed over Park Boulevard into Ivy Hill and Bella Vista, which is where the “Borax” Smith estate was. Francis Marion “Borax” Smith made his fortune in borax mining, and coined the slogan “20 mule team borax” which is still in use today. Smith is better known in Oakland for creating the Key System of streetcars. He and his business partner Frank Havens created the Realty Syndicate and bought large pieces of land then sold smaller pieces for development. To get people out to see the real estate, Smith bought up various streetcar lines and combined them into what became known as the Key System. To encourage people to visit, destination resorts like the Claremont Hotel were built. Traces of the Key System can be found all over Oakland, sometimes in subtle ways. Sometimes they’re still there, like the Claremont Hotel, and the Realty Syndicate building at 1440 Broadway. We were fortunate to be joined by Dorothy Lazard, head of the Oakland History Room at the main Oakland Public Library who told us more information as we went along.

Further along, we saw another wayfinding mark: a row of palm trees. They mark one edge of the Smith estate, which was known as Arbor Villa. The house itself was called Oak Hall, and was extravagant. It had 42 rooms, including 15 bedrooms; a ballroom; a bowling alley including a ball return; an organ with 18 or more ceiling-height pipes; an attached conservatory; and even a miniature borax mine. The 50-acre grounds were equally impressive, with a 5-story tower with an observatory; a large lily pond; a paddock where deer were kept; stables; several greenhouses; and a variety of guest houses and other structures.

I was inspired by what I’d learned on the Oakland Heritage Alliance “Borax” Smith tour and the bits and pieces I found online preparing to lead Saturday’s walk. So Sunday afternoon I joined other like-minded Oaklanders at the Oakland History Room and did more research on Arbor Villa. I’ve started an Oakland Wiki page about Arbor Villa, and will be updating it as time permits. Other things I learned about where the existence of an archery range, a small man-made cave called “The Grotto”, a cattery(!), and various gardens. Because one information source were the Sanborn Maps, which were created to estimate fire insurance rates, I also found other details, like the observatory tower contained a 10,000 gallon water tank.

We crossed back over Park Boulevard, but we weren’t done with the Smiths yet. Frank and his wife Mary donated money for the building of the El Campanil at Mills College. Mary was inspired to help children. After reading Benjamin Farjeon’s Blade O’ Grass about orphans in London, she took in various orphan children. Frank gave 34 acres of land across from Arbor Villa, and endowed the Mary R. Smith Trust for her to start a “home for friendless girls”, AKA orphans. “The Lodge” (a home that’s still there) at the center served as the intake office. Eventually 13 cottages were constructed for the girls to live in, and each cottage was given an endowment. A larger structure called the Home Club was constructed where Oakland High School is now, and served as a central clubhouse for different activities.

Along Park there is stairway that goes up the hill between several apartment buildings. Although it was a public right-of-way, it’s no longer publicly accessible. The stairs are also where a long, arbor-covered stairway went up the hill to the Home Club. A little further along Park is large home, which was one of the 13 cottages and was designed by Julia Morgan. Some of the other cottages still exist, and were designed by such notable architects as Bernard Maybeck and George W. Flick.

Our journey back took us across Haddon Hill, past more beautiful homes, apartments, and church buildings. Of particular note was a large home that was owned by noted industrialist Henry J. Kaiser. He started Kaiser Aluminum, Kaiser Shipyards (which built tons of ships during WWII) and what eventually became Kaiser Permanente, the first HMO. I’ve heard that Franklin Delano Roosevelt stayed there at least once while in the SF Bay Area.

Across the street is a stairway at the end of Haddon Road. As recently as 30 years ago, it was open and accessible. Now it’s blocked off by fences, and overgrown by trees and other plants. While it’s sad to see public stairways cut off, but it’s also understandable when an area wants to restrict easy access from some streets. It was doubtless very different before the MacArthur Freeway (I-580) was built, but now that section of MacArthur feels somewhat orphaned because it’s cut off by the freeway.

Our final stairway took us down from Merritt Avenue down to Beacon Street. It’s another historical staircase, and beautifully if somewhat impractically designed. Each section of stairs has a different design, whether curved, bay-shaped, or straight. They’re also smaller than would be permitted under current building codes. Fortunately a neighbor at the top of the stairs warned us that several of the steps at the bottom were broken, so we proceeded down with extra caution. I reported the problem with SeeClickFix, an online system for reporting potholes, vandalism, and other problems for the Public Works to address. If you’d like to help fix the problem, click here and vote.

More pictures from Saturdays walk:

Special thanks to Chris Kidd for the use of some his photos. I’ve discovered that leading a walk (particularly a large one) makes it harder to take pictures of the walk. If you have pictures of the walk you’d like to share, let me know.

Those of you who had difficulty hearing me talk (which is probably all of you at some point) will be happy to know we’re going to use your generous tips to invest in a portable sound system so large groups can hear better.

Related links:

Thanks to everyone who showed up! Hope to see you at the next Oakland Urban Paths walk, which will be the second Saturday, February 9th. The location is yet to be determined, but it’ll be in Oakland and it’ll be fun!

Saturday there was a small but enthusiastic group for the third annual Oakland Urban Paths ‘Walk and Shop’. We started on Lakeshore in Mandana Plaza and had beautiful weather for our walk.

We walked up the hill to look out over Lake Merritt past the Grand Lake Theater sign, and talked a bit about signs and urban paths. Some paths have street-like signs, some have other signs, but many have no signage at all. Since our walk was going to take us from Oakland into Piedmont and back, I told people about how to tell what city you’re in based on the style of street signs.

We crossed over Grand Avenue and up some stairs then down Jean Street to the Morcom Rose Garden. It’s named for Fred Morcom, the mayor of Oakland in the early 1930s who led the creation of the garden. The Friends of the Morcom Rose Garden, better known as the “Deadheaders”, were out in full force working on the roses. While it’s a city of Oakland park, volunteers do a lot of the maintenance. They’re out every second Saturday if you want to join them.

Then we walked through the park to Piedmont, where Paul pointed out the different street signs when we were in Piedmont. Never straying far from the Oakland border, we headed towards the Mountain View Cemetery. I told people about the tours there and the Oakland and California history there is to learn about. Docents at the cemetery lead general tours every 2nd Saturday and tours focused on different topics every 4th Saturday.

From there we were officially on our own for a while, to give people a chance to shop and wander at their own pace. I browsed a few shops, then stopped for a snack at La Farine bakery.

After that we met up at the Key Route Plaza. It’s named that because it used be a car barn for the Key Route. There’s a plaque and a lovely mural to commemorate the Key Route trains that used to run through there then up Piedmont Avenue. The mural is by artist Rocky Baird, who also painted the nearby mural on the side of Gaylord’s Coffee Shop. It features Key Route train #159, which last left the station at 6:45pm on April 19th, 1958. The mural is full of meanings, starting with the obvious figure of F.M. “Borax” Smith who created the Key Route to get people out to see and hopefully purchase his real estate. But the people pictured riding in car #159 were some of the donors, and there are other figures of note through the image as well. Read more at Oaktown Art and on

We followed and crossed Glen Echo Creek towards downtown. Then it was up more stairs to Oak Park, more stairs and walkways past Harrison and Oakland Avenue, into Adams Point. Past some graffiti and a gnome or two, we crossed over I-580 and walked to the Grand Lake Theater. From there people headed to the Farmers Market, shopping on Grand Avenue or Lakeshore, or back towards home.

Another good walk, with lots of interesting bits and pieces to learn about Oakland and its history. Thanks to everyone who came out for it!

Lots more pictures from the walk:

Links to some of the things I mentioned:

On November 10th over 30 walkers and three dogs convened for the Oakland Urban Paths Rockridge Ramble. The 4-mile walk benefited from a post rain glow of sun and a hardy group of walkers well suited for the vigorous outing. The route covered 12 stair/pathway runs of varying styles and conditions and a pedestrian overcrossing. Walkers had a chance to appreciate pathways with and without wayfinding signs. Other memorable features of the walk included great views, a variety of street lamp styles, vacant lots (gap tooth reminders of the ’91 Berkeley Oakland Hills fire), and a diversity of post-fire architecture. All along the way, curious neighbors who asked what we are doing nodded and smiled knowingly when we told them we were checking out the stairs.

Check out our route below:
Rockridge Ramble at EveryTrail

The walk started at the recently refurbished Rockridge BART Plaza. To start we ducked underneath SR 24 and headed east along Miles. The route was designed to give the group an up close look at the underbelly of SR 24 and gain a further appreciation of the tranquility of the neighborhoods we would soon encounter.

Crossing over Boadway via pedestrian bridge, we were able to spy a small park between Brodway and the freeway with a marker for Byron Rumford. Mr. Rumford was a local politician and African American civic leader, and a member of the CA legislature from 1948-1966. Highway 24 is the Rumford Freeway named in his honor. You can learn more about him on the City of Oakland’s New Era, New Politics tour walking tour.

As the group climbed and plunged into the bends and folds of Rockridge, we were able to appreciate the retrofitted handrails at Brookside Lane.

At the top of Brookside Lane, the vegetation and housing are distinctly post-fire. When descending the lower run of Chaumont Path south of Buena Vista we had a chance to take a printed copy of poetry from the poetry steps, tended to by a caring neighbor. At the bottom of those same steps we met a long-time resident who told us about the day of the hills fire and how the winds blew in a favorable direction to spare his house.

The intersection of Romany and Golden Gate is interesting for a couple of reasons.

  1. While currently signed as Romany and Golden Gate, the sidewalk is stamped with two totally different street names.
  2. There are two very unique street lamp styles, in very close proximity. On this walk there were a total of three unique street lamp styles.

We wound along the pleasantly shady sidewalk of Romany and crossed the four-point intersection of Romany and Cross for our final bits of climbing. The Locarno Path is always fun to walk. It’s double-wide with balustrades and makes you feel grand as you get ready for the grand view on Alpine.

At the top of the Locarno Path on Apline, I was told by one of our walkers that we were indeed near the fabled Rockridge Rock. The exact location of said rock has been a topic of discussion on Andrew Alden’s blog.

We completed the ramble by descending the Margardio steps that were refurbished by the City of Oakland in 2010. On those stairs a couple of years ago, I had the chance to meet the owner of the adjacent house who apologized for contributing to the previous stairs demise. He told me that as a boy, his dad asked him to pull out a young tree growing near the stairs. He told his dad he had done this chore, but hadn’t and years later the mature tree would grow to uproot the stairs and landing.

Thanks to all our happy walkers, we’re looking forward to closing out this year’s walking tours with you next month on our Walk and Shop III.


Earlier this month was a special Oakland Urban Paths walk put on in conjunction with the National Park Service. The tour featured the Juan Bautista de Anza trail, the route taken by some of the first European settlers in California. In 1775-1776, Lt. Colonel Anza of the Spanish army led more than 240 men, women and children 1,200 miles from what is now Mexico to Alta California here in the Bay Area. Prior expeditions had all been explorers, soldiers and priests, but these were some of the first families to settle.

We started the tour at Peralta Hacienda, which was fitting because Luis Peralta came to California on that expedition as a teenager. The tour was led by NPS ranger Hale Sargent, who handed us cards representing the settlers. And with a call that would have been familiar to the settlers, “¡Vayan Subiendo!”, we were off. We crossed Peralta Creek and headed southeast to Courtland Creek.

We followed the creek up to Fairfax, where we heard more about the Anza expedition. Then we were treated to the stunning mosaics at Maxwell Park, and heard about the project from Nancy Karigaca, who spearheaded the project. Read more about the mosaics at Oakland Local.

Then it was up over the hill to Mills College. There we met up with local historian Dennis Evanosky, who told us about an earlier exploration by the Spanish. Captain Don Pedro Fages led six “bluecoat” soldiers and a muleteer. They camped at what is now Mills College, and were the first Europeans to see the entrance to the Golden Gate from contra costa, the opposite shore.

We returned to our starting point via the Laurel (where the Laurel Book Store had hosted a talk by Hale and Dennis earlier in the week) and Allendale. It was a long walk, but all the people and dogs managed it. The day wasn’t over yet, though. Peralta Hacienda graciously opened their doors earlier than usual, so people who were interested could get a tour there to learn more about the Peralta family and the current community surrounding the museum. Another great OUP walk, and special thanks to Hale, Dennis, the Peralta Hacienda, and the Laurel Book Store!

Lots more pictures from the walk:

Saturday was another Oakland Urban Paths walk focused on geology. Led by geology writer Andrew Alden, we explored part of the Hayward Fault in Eastmont Hills and the King Estates Open Space.

Thirty people and two dogs joined us for the short but vigorous walk which featured no stairs, only one improved walkway and lots of dirt paths. After climbing to the ridge, we walked into the nearby King Estates Open Space. The open space straddles the ridge, with views across I-580 to the hills and sweeping views out over the bay.

Andrew Alden

Andrew pointed out the approximate path of the fault, and noted features that indicate its presence. For example, the smaller ridges towards the west appear somewhat truncated. That’s because the land to the west is moving northward relative to the main ridge. The Hayward fault is a strike-slip fault, which means most of the movement is horizontal. The movement over time is relatively small, so there aren’t dramatic effects like those that can be seen in Parkfield, California. But if you know what to look for, you can see possible evidence of the ground moving.

Andrew adds: aseismic creep on the Hayward fault takes place at various rates between zero and 8-10 millimeters per year. Aseismic creep is measurable surface displacement along a fault in the absence of notable earthquakes, i.e., movement not from an earthquake. Less than 10 millimeters per year is a very small amount, but over a couple of years it is enough to crack pavement, twist doorways, etc.

We walked down the hill and past Holy Redeemer College to some of the streets off of Golf Links Road. While the cracks in the sidewalks, driveways and streets might be just from the hill sliding, given the proximity to the fault it seems likely some of it is from the movement along the fault. I also wondered about the two now empty lots above Golf Links—simple landslide, or caused by the fault? Regardless, the fault does present a significant risk in the event of an earthquake. These days, anyone who buys a house near a known fault line in California has to sign a special form saying they acknowledge the risk. And everyone who lives in earthquake country should be prepared with an emergency kit and a plan.

cracked sidewalk

We walked along several streets and back up over the ridge to our starting point. Along the way I chatted with a number of neighbors who wondered what the group was. Everyone I talked with was pleased to have the group exploring their neighborhood, and I was happy to learn about a group of neighbors that had recently cleaned up the one paved walkway we encountered along with the rest of the neighborhood.

Another fun, informative walk. Many thanks to Andrew for leading the walk and sharing his knowledge of geography. And thanks to everyone who joined us!

Lots more pictures:

Check out the USGS page on the Hayward Fault for some interesting maps.

Click here for a map of our route:

Saturday we had an amazing turnout for the Oakland Urban Paths walk focused on the stairs near Highland Hospital and the area around the EBMUD Central Reservoir. The day promised to be warm, but that didn’t stop almost 60 people from showing up to walk.

We started near the original front gate to Highland Hospital, where we admired one of the original 1920s buildings. It’s reminiscent of a Mexican cathedral, in the Spanish baroque style of architecture. It was designed by architect Henry Meyers, who also designed the Posey Tube, the Veterans Memorial Building and other well-known structures in Oakland. The grounds were designed by landscape architect Howard Gilkey, who designed the Cleveland Cascade near Lake Merritt, the Woodminster Cascade in Joaquin Miller Park, and other areas. The hospital came about because a citizens advisory commission developed a countywide plan for health care and facilities.

Key System stop in 1947

Then it was across 14th Avenue to explore various stairs that were built to connect residents of the nearby neighborhoods to the streetcars that ran on 14th Avenue. The stairs are unusual, in that some of the residences along them can only be accessed via the stairways. At top of one of the stairways, we admired the view and I told people about Dennis Evanosky’s palm tree method. The palm trees we saw across the way were the ones marking the edge of the “Borax” Smith estate near Park Boulevard. I also told people about Andrew Alden’s method of using sidewalk stamps for figuring out the age of a neighborhood. Neither Paul nor I knew the exact age of the stairways, but then I saw a stamp on one of them from 1922. Another of the stairways had been repaired fairly recently. Oakland Urban Paths cataloged all the stairways and pathways they could find in Oakland in 2009, and noted the condition and usage of each. The city then used that info for assigning priorities to which stairs got repairs.

McMullen House

Paul then led us past numerous lovely Victorians and other homes, until we eventually came to the former home of John Cornelius McMullen which dates back to 1896. He was an attorney and banker who founded what became the State Savings Bank in Oakland. The brick building that was home to the bank still stands across from the Tribune Tower at 1305 Franklin Street; it’s called, appropriatley enough, the McMullen Building. John had served in the First Wisconsin Infantry during the Civil War and was with Sherman on his March to the Sea. He attained the rank of captain, but for some reason he was known as (and addressed as) “Colonel McMullen.” He died at his Queen Anne-style home at 2748 Grande Vista Avenue on December 30, 1912. He rests at Mountain View Cemetery.

at Wood Park

More walking gave us our first glimpse of the EBMUD Central Reservoir. It was built in 1910 by the People’s Water Company. It covers 14 acres, and can hold 154 million gallons of water. Unfortunately, it leaked in the 1950s, and the resulting slide moved an entire neighborhood. The sliding was stopped by the Corps of Engineers, but it destroyed dozens of houses, and left the area unsafe to build. It became William D. Wood Park in 1976, and a now a group of dedicated neighbors are working to clean it up and improve it. We heard about the history of the park and the volunteer efforts from Jill Weil who lives nearby. There was a more recent slide west of the original, which destroyed additional homes. It’s unclear whether the recent slide was the result of additional leaking, and a lawsuit was filed in 2007.

We walked through Wood Park, then over to I-580, otherwise known as the MacArthur Freeway. A bridge took us over the freeway to the Altenheim senior housing in the Dimond. A short walk along MacArthur Boulevard and another bridge back across the freeway brought us to the other side of the reservoir. We meandered through several streets, back down the first set of stairs we’d climbed, and returned to the front of Highland Hospital.

Another great walk. Thanks to Paul Rosenbloom for leading the tour, Jill Weil for telling us about Wood Park, Dennis Evanosky for information for the tour, and Annalee Allen for information about the tour and the mention in the newspaper. And thanks to everyone who showed up for the walk!

Lots more pictures:

More information:
- to help clean up Wood Park, contact Lisa Lemus at
- Mountain View Cemetery tours
- read more about the history of the Altenheim

There was a great turnout for the Oakland Urban Paths walk in Montclair last Saturday, which focused on the history of the Sacramento Northern Railway, the highway that wasn’t built, and the stairs of Thornhill.

Chris Kidd and I co-lead the walk, and were joined by 40 people and half a dozen dogs. We met near the park in Montclair Village, and started by viewing the two large concrete walls nearby on Mountain Boulevard. Many residents don’t realize those are left from the days when the Sacramento Northern Railway ran behind the village and a railroad bridge passed over Mountain Boulevard.

Realty Syndicate building

We walked through Montclair Village to view a building that was originally for the Realty Syndicate, the real estate and transit business owned by F.M. “Borax” Smith and Frank Havens. The headquarters of the Realty Syndicate was at 1440 Broadway, an impressive building that is still there, and currently houses Oaklandish and other businesses.

Then it was a short but steep climb up to the railroad trail. This wide, level trail follows the old Sacramento Northern Railway right of way, which makes it ideal for walking and biking—it’s part of my bike route home. My grandfather worked for the Sacramento Northern, so it has a personal connection for me as well. Along the trail there are various interpretive signs about local history installed by Eagle scout Daniel Levy.

Sacramento Northern Railway display

Originally, the Sacramento Northern was primarily for passengers, but later carried mostly freight. Conspiracy theorists will be pleased to note there really was a conspiracy by GM, Firestone, Standard Oil and other companies that helped lead to the demise of electric streetcars and interurban railways around the U.S. But the Sacramento Northern also faced increasing competition from shorter, less steep railroad routes. Passenger service on this part of the route ended in 1941, the final electric train on the SN was in 1965, and the last vestiges of the SN were folded into the Union Pacific in 1983. However, this history of the Sacramento Northern and even some of the rolling stock lives on at the Western Railway Museum in Suisun.

A little further up the trail, we learned about the freeway that was never built. CalTrans bought up land in Shepherd Canyon with the plan of building highway 77. It was to be an extension of Park Blvd., and would run up the canyon and connect highway 13 with Contra Costa county (much as highway 24 does just two miles north). Fortunately, community activists argued against the plan, and the area was preserved. In 1972, assembly member Ken Meade officially protected the area with AB561. After the downfall of the freeway plan, the Shepherd Canyon Corridor Plan was shaped by volunteers, and now guides the preservation of the canyon.

stairs up to Gaspar

We doubled back and took some stairs up the hill to Gaspar Drive. Like many of the stairs in Oakland, they’re unmarked, and it’s very easy to walk past them even if you’re looking for them. We traversed our way along Gaspar and Colton and Diaz Place, a short cul-de-sac, then went down some more unmarked stairs to Cabot and then back down to Mountain Blvd.

From there, Chris took the lead, and we headed up Thornhill Drive along the upper reaches of Temescal Creek. Geographically, we’d crossed over from the Sausal Creek watershed which goes through East Oakland, to the Temescal Creek watershed which goes through Oakland and meets the bay in Emeryville. Yet another way of looking at the question of where is East Oakland?

We took a short break at a coffee shop on Thornhill. After serving the sudden flood of customers, the owner came out to learn more about the OUP walk and to greet some of the two- and four-legged participants.

steep stairs!

Then it was time for some serious stair climbing. While the stairs we’d climbed near the railroad trail were concrete, the stairs off Thornhill are mostly wood. In part because the hillside is steeper in places, and the wooden stairs can more easily match that.

Some of the stairs in this part of the walk I’d found while test-walking routes for Secret Stairs of the East Bay. We didn’t climb all the way to the top, but we pointed out an even steeper set of stairs that continued up the hill. While most of us then headed back down towards Thornhill, a few intrepid souls continued on up the stairs. That’s dedication!

All in all, another great walk. Thanks to everyone who turned out for it. Special thanks to Chris Kidd for co-leading the walk; Bob and Myra Redman for helping test the walk route; and Myra Redman and Katarina Stenstedt for taking pictures during the walk.

More pictures:

More reading:
The books mentioned during the walk are:

Links to more reading:

View our route on Google Maps.

« Previous PageNext Page »