|Walter Blair and his home on Highland|
Walter Blair (1830 - 1888) Plot 28, Lot 11
Walter Blair and his brother William, Vermont natives,
came to California via Cape Horn in 1852, and settled in Alameda County in
The area that is now Piedmont, and parts of Oakland, was
originally a community of ranches. The Beard Ranch is now Trestle Glen; the Biglow
and Gladding ranches are now Pleasant Valley and Vernon Heights. Walter Blair
created the largest of these - 600 acres for which he paid the Peralta family
the grand sum of $1.25 per acre.
|James Gamble & "The Highlands," home of the Requa family|
Other landowners included early Piedmont pioneers Isaac
Requa, Hugh Craig, Jesse Wetmore and James Gamble. The estates generally were self-sufficient with their
own water, fruits & vegetables, livestock and chicken.
A farmer and dairyman, Blair’s dairy farm property ran
from the cemetery wall (on the Moraga Avenue side) to and beyond Blair Avenue
in Piedmont. He bought the land from the US Government, which now owned most of
the original Vicente Peralta land grant.
Blair’s Dairy was at the southwest corner of what is now
El Cerrito and Blair Avenues. The dairy supplied milk and butter to the
surrounding area and San Francisco. He raised cattle and planted wheat and
barley. Old-timers referred to it as “Blair’s Pasture.”
|Boundaries of Blair Park|
In 1862, Walter married fellow Vermont native Phoebe
Harvey, with whom he had two daughters – Ethel (aka Florence) and Mabel. They
lived in a house on Highland.
Blair and his brother planted Eucalyptus trees, which
still provide the border between Mountain View Cemetery and Piedmont. These trees were known as
“Blair’s Gum Trees” and ran from Moraga Road to Montclair. They were removed in
1936 for street widening.
|The Blair Quarry #1|
Diagonally across from the dairy, Blair developed a
quarry where Dracena Park was later located, and sold the basalt and chert to pave
streets in Oakland and Piedmont. Some of the rock from the quarry can still be
seen at MVC where it was used to make gravestones. When the quarry filled with
water, the quarry became a favorite swimming hole. When someone drowned in the
1920s, the city filled the quarry with construction debris.
|Blair Park Trolley and Piedmont Cabel Car|
Blair made his major mark was made in the field of transportation.
Along with Montgomery Howe, he founded the Broadway & Piedmont Railroad
horsecar line. He
was also involved in lines that ran up H Street, Market and Adeline. Both James
Gamble and Montgomery Howe were investors in his transportation companies.
Not only did the streetcars provide service for Oakland,
but it brought prospective property owners and homeowners to Piedmont. This was
also why both the Key System, developed by Borax Smith in the 1890s and early
20th century, and rail lines in L.A. built by Henry H. Huntington at
the turn of the 20th century were built.
The Key System served a number of neighborhoods,
particularly where development was happening.
The B served Lakeshore and Trestle
The C served
The E served
It was Blair who designed the cable car grip that
replaced the original one of Hallidie’s -- the basic design still in use today.
|Piedmont Springs Hotel and visitor Mark Twain (taken by Eadweard Muybridge)|
In 1870, Walter Blair built the Piedmont Springs Hotel
where natural sulpher springs bubbled from the ground. The hotel became the
terminus for one his streetcar lines. The streetcars ran hourly, connecting the
hotel to Piedmont Avenue, where riders could transfer to Oakland or head to the
ferries to travel to San Francisco.
The hotel had 20 bedrooms and five dining rooms. The
main dining room featured a crystal chandelier, fine china and velvet drapes.
It could seat up to 35 guests. The water of the spring was thought to have curative
powers. Wealthy San Franciscans journeyed to the hotel during to visit "the
country" and often stayed for a week. It was considered one of the finest
resorts in California at the time. One of the most famous visitors was Mark
Twain, who arrived in 1871.
|Blair Park Bridge and Entrance (that's possibly Walter Blair on the bridge)|
In 1884, in Moraga Canyon, at the end of his Oakland and
Piedmont Railroad horsecar line where the hotel now stood, Blair developed a
75-acre amusement park, Blair’s Park. This was an inducement for people to ride
his street railroad, which took someone 25
minutes to travel by horsecar up the hill from downtown Oakland to Blair's
Park. At the park you could sail small boats, ride ponies, watch acrobats hang
from hot air balloons, have a picnic by one of the waterfalls and listen to
1890, the Consolidated Piedmont Cable Company leased the park from Blair’s
widow and added attractions to lure more riders to their cable cars. The
offered free concerts on Saturday and Sunday and built a dancing pavilion.
There were also plans for a 3-story casino with a large veranda, but it was
|Newspaper ads for the Park and Hotel|
Park eventually saw it’s demise due to a number of circumstances, including
competition from other amusement parks (Bushrod, Idora and Shell Mound),
problems with “hoodlums and hooligans,” and a tragic balloon accident involving
a 6-year-old boy named Bertram Hills. 5,000 people witnessed the boy fall 1,000
feet from the sky. Newspaper accounts claim that Mrs. Edna Olney fainted when
she saw the boy fall from the sky. In 1897, Blair’s heirs put the park up for sale.
It was purchased in 1902 by Frank Havens’ nephew, the poet George Sterling. By
1904, it was owned by the Havens Realty Syndicate and developed with homes
In January 1891, the women of Piedmont led a temperance
movement to block the sale of liquor at the Piedmont Springs Hotel, which was
increasingly getting complaints about noise and public drunkeness. They
petitioned the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to withdraw the liquor
license granted to the owner of the hotel. The liquor controversy ended quickly
with the Piedmont Springs Hotel fire in the early morning of November 17, 1892.
The absence of any water supply left the occupants of the doomed building no
other recourse than to sit down in the shade and watch the building burn. The
closest fire station was 5 miles away in Oakland and the horses had a difficult
time getting the fire equipment up the steep hills.
Mountain View Cemetery
purchased the land between the lower and middle lakes.
is not the same Blair Park that we know today off Moraga Ave, although it
shares some of the same footprint.
|The Gamble House|
In 1877, Blair sold 350 acres to James Gamble, then
president of Western Union Telegraph. James
Gamble built a large home on the property on Hillside Avenue, established the
Piedmont Land Company and planned to sell the rest of the property for homes. The
President of the Company was George Beaver, with Gamble as VP. Investors involved
in the venture included S.P. Van Loben Sels, T.L. Barker, James de Fremery and
L.A. Booth. Directors included Booth, as well as James Gamble, Henry Bigelow and Arthur Bowman.
With the development of homes, schools were needed. The
nearest school was miles down a dusty country road at 28th &
West St. Walter’s brother, William, drafted a petition in 1878, which was
submitted to the Alameda County Board of Education. The state required that 5
students were required to start a school.
George Hume, a local millionaire had two school age
children. Along with Walter’s two children and one other local child they met
George Hume’s sister-in-law, Zylphia Raymond, was a
teacher and was appointed as Piedmont’s first school teacher. The first classes
were held in the Hume home. Three years later the first school was constructed
at what is now Piedmont Ave and Pleasant Valley Rd. Mrs. Raymond ran the school until 1880, when the
attendance “swelled” to ten students and a schoolhouse had to be built. The school was built on land purchased from Montgomery
Howe (near what is now Mather Road).
all kids attended the school, as many had home tutors.
Walter Blair did not live to see his ranch become the
city of Piedmont.
In 1876, he built the 3-story Centennial Hotel at the
corner of 14th and Clay in Oakland, and lived there at the time of his death in 1888. His wife insisted
that get away from the lonely and isolated country life of Piedmont. He would
die in his apartment there 11 years later at the age of 57 of complications
[Biography by Michael Colbruno, Stafford Buckley and Gail Lombardi]