Piedmont Becomes a City
1914 Map of Piedmont
1907 - 1920s
Varney Gaskill became the first mayor in the city of Piedmont, but he was only mayor for three months. In May of 1907 Hugh Craig became the second mayor of the city and is considered the "father" of Piedmont. Piedmont City Hall was built in 1908. When it was first built it was just one-story high and had a tall bell tower. It was designed by Albert Farr, a famous architect. Mr. Farr designed many of the buildings in the civic center, including the Piedmont Community Church which was built in 1916 and the Exedra arch. The city also built a bridge across Oakland Avenue to make travel easier.
Incorporation was followed by the construction of new schools, churches, municipal buildings, and a downtown commercial center. Architect Albert Farr designed many of the city’s most prominent buildings, including City Hall, Piedmont Community Church, Bonita School (later replaced by Havens Elementary), and the Piedmont Commercial Center (later replaced by the Wells Fargo Bank office building). Farr also designed the Oakland Avenue Bridge, replacing the 1890 wooden trestle over Linda Avenue with a gracious Mission-style gateway to the city. Electric streetcar service was extended to Piedmont during these years, with three lines connecting the city to Oakland, Berkeley, and the San Francisco ferry terminals. Piedmont’s population grew rapidly during the 1910s and 1920s. In 1910, the City had 1,719 residents. The population more than doubled to 4,282 in 1920, and doubled again to 9,333 residents by 1930. The building boom included a mixture of mansions and more modest homes built in a range of vernacular styles.
By 1911 the City had built civic headquarters housing the City Hall and Police and Fire Departments. The city's first school was built on Bonita Avenue in 1911 on property donated by Frank C. Havens. In 1913 Egbert Beach School was built and a commercial center with shops and offices was added at the curve of Highland Avenue. The city's first high school was built on a section of Piedmont Park in 1921. The Community Church was built in 1918, and the Christian Science Church in 1937. In 1929 the City Council legalized the existing multiple dwellings and zoned the west side of Grand Avenue between Linda Avenue and the city’s border of commercial use. After involved legal controversy in the mid-1940’s, several lots on the west side of Highland Avenue at Vista Avenue were zoned for commercial use. In 1971 the original buildings at the commercial center on Highland were replaced and the buildings at the corner of Highland and Vista were replaced later in the same decade.
Oakland Tribune - Wed - Feb. 9, 1927
Varney Gaskill was the first
mayor of Piedmont, California
Official Piedmont flag in 1907
(Click here for more flag history)
Alameda Daily Argus - Tue - Jan. 31, 1911
1920s and the "City of Millionaires"
After our return from a year in Europe in 1920, we were shocked to find our ranches were being broken up for building tracts, roads criss-crossing our golden hills and garish tract offices vaunting the values of this ruined land. And our pretty creeks, hidden in the canyons, in which we bathed our tired feet after long, hot walks in the summer heat, were dried up by the Water Company to supply the water needs of a growing city. The lovely wild plants and shrubs fed by the creeks died out and left waste spots to haunt us, all this once natural beauty destroyed in the name of progress.
From the City of Piedmont's website:
In the Roaring Twenties Piedmont was known as the "City of Millionaires" because there were more millionaires per square mile than in any city in the United States.
Piedmont became a charter city under the laws of the State of California on December 18, 1922. The charter was adopted by the voters on February 27, 1923 and can only be changed by another vote of the people.
In 1950 the Veteran's Building was built next door to City Hall on land that had been used as a small park.
By 1976, the city needed a new middle school. The school district tore down the Leander Redmon estate on Magnolia Avenue and built the current Middle School on that property. The Redmon's tea house, which had been in the back yard, was moved to Piedmont Park and placed in the exact spot where an earlier tea house had been built by Frank Havens in 1890.
In the 1980's and 90's, Piedmont restored its existing parks and created three new ones. Over $350,000 was spent to clean up Piedmont Park and build a new overlook behind the Community Hall. The city received a gift for Crocker Park, a large statue of a bear and her cubs designed by Benny Bufano. There were three new parks built, Linda Park, Dracena Park and Coaches Playfield. The newest park project is the Hampton Field Building which will be used as a pre-school and for recreation programs for Piedmont children.
Piedmont Unified School district also did major building projects at each school in Piedmont during the 1990's and rebuilt Witter Field at Piedmont High School.
As Piedmont starts a new century, there are many names from the past that are still part of everday life. Havens School is named for the man who rebuilt Piedmont Park. Blair Avenue is named for the the farmer and businessman who first settled here and Craig Avenue is named for the man who led the fight to become a city. Highland Avenue and Requa Road remember one of the first seven families to settle in our community.
The Sacramento Star - Wed - Jan. 28, 1914
Oakland Tribune -
Sun - Dec. 22, 1912
Oakland Tribune - Sun - Sep. 7, 1924
Oakland Tribune - Tue - Feb. 4, 1913
The San Francisco Examiner - Sat - Apr. 20, 1929
Oakland Tribune - Tue - Oct. 25, 1932
Overland monthly, 1901-12- Vol 38 Iss 6:
Nestled at the foot of the mountains, on the outskirts of a thriving city, its location is unexcelled; wondrously gifted by Nature to be her own surveyors as far as possible, it is romantically charming.
If its old trees could speak, what stories they could tell of those mysterious first days of Alameda, when Indian and Spaniard dreamed beneath their shade until the vigorous white man put all their dreams to flight. A traditional past of intense interest has "Piedmont in the Hills."
With all these advantages we predict a brilliant and long-lived future for this section of beautiful Alameda County.
Oakland Tribune - Sun - Jun. 22, 1952
Pacific municipalities by League of California Municipalities; League of Pacific Northwest Municipalities,
Publication date 1903:
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN OF THE LEAGUE: Briefly I want to call your attention to what some of our modern cities are doing at this present time along the lines indicated by the subject. There was distributed in our midst the other day a report of the City of Piedmont, supposed to be one of the most modern cities of the day. I do not make these statements in any sense from a critical standpoint, but merely to show that there is a want of intelligence in the treatment of a most important topic. By way of parenthesis in this report, they say here, quoting iron. Elbert Hubbard, that a city is "any place where men have builded a jail, a bagnio, a gallows, a morgue, a church, a hospital, a saloon, and laid out a cemetery — hence a center of life. Second. A herding region; any part of the earth where ignorance and stupidity integrate and agglomerate." And then they add, "Piedmont, California, is the one exception."
American weather by McLeod, Charles, Publication date 2012:
I leave my homes hill in my small silver Prius. My suburb is still, its main street elm-lined and silent. Piedmont is home to three banks and two churches. There's a small barbershop, one high-end market. The Veteran’s Center is set between the police and the fire departments. There’s a community pool; my son swam for their team. Across the street, his old high school, the source of his exile, the setting for him beating a classmate unconscious. My town has six stoplights, about ten thousand people. My town has no motto. My town’s motto is: Money. At the base of its hills, where it borders with Oakland, are tall iron gates with chains wrapped around them. As legend has it, these gates were installed for keeping out have-nots in times of peril. They haven't been closed since I was alive; few things, however, are purely aesthetic, and on some occasions, in predawn’s small hours, I’ve seen city workers, their truck’s lights turned off, checking the locks and oiling the hinges.