Blair Park

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From the San Francisco Morning Call -

Sunday, March 22, 1891. Page 8:

PICTURESQUE PIEDMONT.

Glimpses of a Region of Delightful Hollies.

The Piedmont Cable Company and Its Enterprise --

The Attractions at Blair's Park. Views of Surpassing Grandeur.

BLAIR'S PARK.

During the past two years there has been created at Piedmont a park and pleasure ground of such unusual beauty and genuine attraction that it is worthy of especial description. Originally laid out by the late Walter Blair for the purposes to which it is now devoted, it has been taken in hand by the Piedmont Cable Company, and extensive and important improvements have been made or are now under way. The cable company is indebted to Mr. Ira Bishop of the San Francisco Tool Company for the design and laying out of the grounds and the adoption of the principal attractions of the park. The park itself comprises an area of seventy-five acres, but is surrounded on three sides by the rugged heights and the picturesque mountain canyons for which Piedmont Heights are celebrated, thus practically giving a range of vastly larger scope to the limits of the park, while on the fourth side, or front, by which the approach is made, a splendid view is had over the whole of Oakland, the bay, the city of San Francisco and the unequaled water prospect that ranges from the Golden Gate inward to the Contra Costa shore. To gain this view at the best advantage the visitor will climb to Inspiration Point, which, rising at the back to an altitude of some 700 feet, dominates the whole surrounding country and gives the view in panorama of everything from Berkeley to Alameda on this shore and from Mount Tamalpais down along the Coast Range. An easy, graded trail has been constructed to this point, with frequent benches and resting-places on the way, and is a most popular feature. A fact that is always appreciated by the many pilgrims to Inspiration Point is a living spring of fresh, cold water that rises just above the point. An observatory will eventually be erected here.

 

SOME OF THE ATTRACTIONS.

As the cable-car comes swinging down the "gravity curve" and draws up at the entrance to the park there is found a portal which is later to be replaced by a substantial arch, at either side of which is planted a giant wisteria, one blue, the other white, said to he 100 years of age and specially imported from Japan. These will be trained over the arch and in the season will present a solid mass of bloom. One goes directly by broad walks to the bandstand, with its amply-seated oval, to listen for a time to the band. A concert will be given on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the best talent, of Oakland and San Francisco being secured. Just before reaching this place the fountain is passed. The water is abundant and has a fall of several hundred feet, and hence the fountain is of real strength and fullness. To the right is the maze, or labyrinth -- a copy of the celebrated Parisian labyrinth destroyed in the Franco-Prussian war. It Is a very interesting puzzle, having sixty-four paths, and requiring a very perplexing journey to reach the pavilion at the center, whence a view is obtained of the devious ways of those endeavoring to gain the spot. In size it is over 20,000 square feet, and is constructed of lattice work. But, without doubt, one of the greatest novelties is the

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Oakland Tribune - Sun - Mar. 5, 1922

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JAPANESE TEA-HOUSE,

An exact copy of the ancient tea-houses of Japan. It was framed in Japan of native woods by native artisans, was sent over complete, and has been put together by Japanese carpenters on this side. Tea in native style will be served by Japanese maidens in national costume, the whole ensemble being a bit of oriental luxury dropped into the practical Occident. A choice collection of roses is being planted about the tea-house, which will eventually embower it in flowers.

Nor are the children forgotten. While in a sense the whole park is their play ground, there are especial attractions for them. In one locality there has been constructed a Venetian canal over 1000 feet in length, one portion being carried across a ravine on trestle work, and by a circuitous route giving a very novel water ride. In another place is the merry-go-round with adjuncts of swings, seesaws, donkey and goat carts, etc., just as found at Golden Gate Park.

At the entrance to the canyon at the back of the park are found the tables and benches for picnic parties, of which there are a great number. The nooks and corners farther up are popular spots for basket parties, while the paths which are opened for a mile or more up the canyon supply pleasant promenades. Later on it is the intention to erect a capacious and handsome casino which will be surrounded on all sides by broad verandahs and will be In the midst of shrubbery and flower beds. A photograph gallery, refreshment booth (no liquors being sold on the grounds), and every convenience will go to complete the arrangements.

The lower grounds of the park are taken up by a lake of considerable extent, which adds the further charm of variety to the scene. The grounds are clean and tastily kept, there being no brush or rubbish anywhere, and are the resort entirely of the better class, largely family parties who come to spend the day, bringing their luncheon in baskets. Eventually the park will be almost a huge flower garden, many thousands of plants, shrubs, flowers and bulbs being set out. In everything there seems a desire to keep the place choice and select, neither expense nor trouble being spared by the lessees to make and keep Blair's Park one of the most attractive spots on the Oakland side of the bay.

Oakland Tribune -

Sat - Jun. 20, 1891:

Attractions:

Blair Park is a spot of which the poets justly might sing, and which would furnish studies for an artist. The location of the park is most favorable in every respect for the purpose to which it is dedicated. It is situated on the brow of the hill, overlooking the entire country for miles around. It might be well here to give a history of its delightful place. A few years ago the late Walter Blair conceived the idea that a park where families could resort to and spend a pleasant day rambling in the country would be of untold benefit to the community. So accordingly he took this section of land and had it laid out for that purpose. Nature has especially fitted this spot with many of its trees and shrubs, and with a few improvements it was made what it now is – the most pleasant outing-place in the bay counties.

 

When the cable road was constructed the heads of the company thought it a good idea to lease these grounds at the at the terminus of their road, so that it passengers could have the benefit of their use. Accordingly the lease was arranged, and all who have ever visited the park know what a vision of loveliness it is. The park comprises an area of seventy-five acres, but is surrounded on three sides by rugged heights and sandy canyons, thus giving a range of a vastly large scope than the limits of the grounds.

 

At the entrance stands a large arch, over which trail two costly wisterias imported from Japan and more than 100 years old. This arch will in time be replaces by a substantial stone one. Passing under the arch and walking over the well-laid walkthrough the lawns, many benches places in a semi-circle are seen.

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Oakland - Tribune -Wed - Aug. 20, 1890

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Inspiration point:

The easy grade of the path makes it seem almost incredible to the visitor that he should have attained an altitude of 900 feet above the level of the sea; but the panorama which lies before his assures him of the correctness. All along the path benches are placed for the tired, and a cool mountain spring bubbles forth, inviting the thirsty to partake.

The view from the point is grand. Tamalpais, with its sister peaks, beckon from the distance. The waters of San Francisco bay gleam in the sunlight, and the vessels which dot its surface are plainly discerned passing and repressing, or slowly fading from view as the Golden Gate opens to let them go. San Francisco, “hill-enthroned,” sits fair and stately, awaiting with a serene dignity her royal future; while nearer lies Berkeley, nestled in the foothills, and Alameda, with her water barriers. To the right gleam the shafts of the city of the dead, while directly in front of Oakland stretches forth, with its tall spires and smoking factories plainly visible. The estuary, railroad wharves and mole all lie as if in a puppet of panorama. All this sets in a framework of wooded hills, whose beauty, varying with the changing year, forms a rare picture. Well might the poet say: “’Tis grand, ‘tis grand; and all creation of God.”

An Eastern traveler who recently took the trip remarked that he had traveled all over the world five times and never yet saw more beautiful scenery. Coming down Inspiration point is the Venetian Canal.

The Venetian Canal and Dancing Pavilion:

Lies, surrounded on three sides by hills. This is an interesting feature of amusement. The circular canal is 1000 feet in circumference, and is elevated above the ground to a considerable height. A large wheel run by an engine sends the water running merrily around its course, carrying with it boats laden with children. The little crafts glide noiselessly after the original one which was destroyed in Paris during the Franco-Prussian war. It contains sixty-four intersecting paths, and around the aqueduct, now over babbling brooks, now across small ravines, then up on the hillsides, and finally across a trestle to the starting point. The ride is a great novelty, as all the sights, including the beautiful view, are noticeable.

 

Within the circumference of the canal on the ground beneath stands the dancing pavilion. This has ben but recently constructed and will undoubtedly be a favorite spot. The platformn is of large area and is neatly canopied above with a substantial roof. The sides are left open, so that the dancers may be refreshed by the cooling air. The pavilion was built for the use of the public.

 

Clubs that now are obliged to hire halls in town to give balls in, where the atmosphere soon becomes close and the dancers are literally roasted in trying to enjoy themselves, will find this a great pleasure. Here on the application to the company’s office the pavilion may be engaged any evening, and those who desire to enjoy the pleasures of Terpsichore need only to bring music with them and danced to their hearts content. A large electric light in the center of the pavilion abundantly illuminates the structure. During such evenings as the pavilion is engaged refreshment booths in the park will be kept open for the benefit of the dancers.

 

Passing down the walks to the south, after a perplexing journey the stand in the center is reached where seats are prepared. Those who reach the goal are afforded the opportunity of watching others seek the center. After once being in, the journey must again be taken to get out.

 

At the stand in front all sorts of refreshing goodies are sold. To the right of the maze is the Photography Gallery.

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Oakland_Tribune_Wed__Jan_21__1891
Blair’s Park offered picnic tables, swin

Picnic Tables:

Are plentifully disposed for the convenience of picnickers. Some are under the shady trees, where the birds have builded their nests, while others are located in cozy dells. Many visitors avail themselves of the use of the tables and pleasant luncheons are enjoyed in the open air. One good feature about these tables is that they are secluded, although conveniently located. The public is beginning to realize the advantage of the park in which attractions are so numerous. Here is a quiet spot where ladies and children spend a pleasant outing without the fear of being molested or spoken to by any objectionable person. It has been the aim of the company to see that none but a select gathering visit their pretty grounds, and they have carried their intentions into execution most admirably.  In the first place, the park is not such a resort as questionable characters would frequent, for no liquors are sold on the grounds, and a “though” is as much out of the place there as a chicken is in the water. It is unlike some other parks where lady visitors were obliged to be accompanied by escorts for the fear of being insulted by ruffians, for Blair Park is entirely devoid of such characters, and mothers with their children may enjoy the visit without the slightest fear of molestation.  The attendant who looks after the grounds is a deputy constable, but his services as an official are never needed.

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Canal and pagoda - Oakland_Tribune_Wed__

Oakland Tribune - Wed - Jan. 21, 1891

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Oakland Tribune - Tue - May 12, 1891

Oakland  Tribune - Mon - Apr. 27, 1891

The Tea House:

This is one of the most novel attractions in the park. It is an exact copy of the ancient tea-houses of Japan. Which in years back gained much fame. The building is situated on a small knoll and is a curious piece of workmanship. It was framed in Japan, of native wood and by native workmen. The structure was made complete, and every joint fitted. It was then shipped here “knocked down,” and Japanese laborers re-erected it. Not a nail was used in its construction, except in the shingling of the roof, where nails were necessary. Japanese ropes were tied over the neatly fitting music from a machine in the center add an additional charm to the ride. 

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Japanese tea house - The_San_Francisco_E

Photography Gallery:

Here a cozy structure has been erected where those desiring their pictures taken can, by sitting a few moments, obtain them. In ten minutes they are finished off, and the visitor sees himself and he is – for the camera never lies. Many groups of picnickers often take this occasion to get mementoes of their trip, which in after years are so pleasant to recall. In front of the gallery are many pretty views of the park which are interesting. The photograph gallery is well patronized, as the cost of a tin-type is very small, and is a pleasing way of remembering the visit to the park. Close beside the gallery is the Tea House.

The San Francisco Examiner - Sun - Feb. 28, 1892

San Francisco Chronicle -  Thu - Apr. 30, 1891

Oakland Tribune - Thu - Apr. 30, 1891

The Bronze fountain:

The bronze fountain in Blair Park is an artistic piece of modeling, designed by Frederick Flohr of this city, and it possesses the additional merit of being the largest piece of bronze work ever executed on this coast.

At the solicitation of the Piedmont Cable Company numerous designs for the fountain were submitted by Easter and local sculptors. The design of Frederick Flohr was accepted and he was commissioned to execute the work, which required seven months to complete it.

The fountain is cast in bronze and it weighs about 800 pounds. The basin in which the bronzework stands is of artificial stone and is forty-two feet in diameter. The first or lower section of the fountain is of white bronze, eight feet three inches high and nine feet in diameter. About this four large dolphins spout streams of water. Upon the structure rests a large bowl ten feet six inches in diameter and two feet deep, ornamented with leaves. Three colossal swans surmount this structure and from their mouths flow streams of water to the basin on which they rest. Upon them rests a huge swell.

The work is crowned by a heroic figure of youth, nine feet high, holding in tight embrace a fish, from the mouth of which the water spouts high in the air.

The whole is a very artistic piece of work and forms one of the greatest attractions at Blair Park.

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More on the fountain:

 

This is a costly bronze piece of statuary carved by a celebrated artist. It stands in the middle of a pond and is twenty-nine feet high. At the base is represented the lower order of animal ___ by four dolphins, who continually knit a cool stream of water from their mouths. In the center the second decree of swimming animal life is shown by four swans, who cast a gentle spray from their beaks high in the air. The crown piece is surmounted with a child holding in its arms a fish. The main stream pours out of the throat of the fish, and ascends to a height of sixty feet from the ground, falling into huge basins by the side of the statuary, and gently moistening the leaves of the many pond lilies. Continuing down the walk to the west a beautiful lake stretches out its waters. Benches and settees are conveniently located on its banks where the visitors may watch the dainty fish pop up for food. Ascending along the path at the side of the lake inspiration point is reached.

Band Stand:

The is an oval shaped structure, and is over great interest, for here music is furnished. Every Sunday and Saturday afternoon bands of twenty-five pieces discourse the sweetest stains of popular music. To the right of the band stand is the fountain.

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The Spring:

Blair Park in Piedmont in the 1880's fro
1898 The oakland Tribune Alameda County.

The fence to the top right is Moraga Avenue (near Coaches field today)

Oakland Tribune - Sun - Jul. 2, 1967

Balloons:

On July 6, 1897:

Most remembered of all balloon ascensions from Blair's Park was made by aeronaut Charles Conlon on a Fourth of July in the mid-1880s. Just as the balloon left the ground a small lad named Bertram Hills grabbed a dangling rope and was carried aloft. 

The mist factual version of the tradgedy came to The Knave some years ago from Mrs. Edna Olney Hunt, whose mother took her and little Bertram to the park to witness the balloon ascension.

"Bertie became real excited and it became hard to hold onto his hand. Charlie Conlon was a friend of ours and he had been telling Bertie all about the balloon adventures. The boy wanted to go up with Charlie. Suddenly he broke free and ran to the balloon just as it was leaving the ground. He threw a leg over the sandbag and grabbed the rope. Charlie didn't know that Bertie was on the sandbag," Edna Olney Hunt recited.

" ' Ride the balloon down, there's a child on the sandbag,' shouted Charlie's managers, using a megaphone. 

"Charlie called to Bertie and told him to hang on tight and not to be frightened. Bertie answered 'alright'. But when Charlie called again there was no answer. He looked down to see the boy tumbling groundward through the air.

"We think the reason Bertie lost his grip was because he became breathless. He had just recovered from Whopping cough."

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Oakland Tribune - Fri - Jun_19, 1896

San Francisco Chronicle - Tue - Jul. 6, 1897

San Francisco - Chronicle - Sun - Jun. 28, 1896

The Pond:

For years it has borne the name of “Blair’s pond,” and during its existence has sudden beneath its dark surface more human bodies than any similar patch of water of its size in these regions. Indeed, there has not been a Coroner in Alameda county since 1875 until the present time who has not been obliged to record on the death rolls some victim of the weird pond, and strangest of all, each one of the martyrs to the dismal hole has been a good swimmer.

 

It has been known for a certainty that at least twelve unfortunates have entered the water never to emerge from it alive, but for how many more deaths it is responsible will probably never be known, for the fatal hole never voluntarily gives up its dead. A number of bodies have been recovered, but then only after much hard work with grappling irons. However, there are still believed to be others reposing it its depths.

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Blairs pond - mysterious pond in piedmon

San Francisco - Chronicle - Sun - Jun. 28, 1896

The San Francisco Examiner - Sat - Feb. 8, 1896

Transportation to Blair Park:

Oakland Tribune - Sun – Oct. 9, 1955

 

 “That district around Grand and Linda was called Pleasant Valley in those days. There was an old wooden bridge on Oakland Ave. where the cable cars overpassed Linda Ave.,” Fraser continues. “My fifth and last stop was the home of Isaac Requa on Highland Ave. beyond the old Piedmont Park and Sulfur Springs. The Oakland Ave. cable terminated at what is now Highland Ave. At that point the cars dropped the cable and traveled by gravity, that is, coasted down Highland to the old Blairs Park where Robert Earlston gave an exhibition balloon flight and parachute jump every Sunday afternoon; park admission free. There were no Sunday papers printed then. Earlston would leave the ground dressed in bright red tights and do acrobatic stunts on a trapeze. What a thrill for us kids! From here the cable cars continued on, by gravity, through the grain fields till they picked up the cable again on Oakland Ave. beyond Linda.

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Blair Park for Sale:

Oakland Tribune - Sun - May 12, 1918

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Oakland Tribune - Sun - Aug. 20, 1922