The quarry before the park:
Oakland Tribune – Sun – Jun. 22, 1952:
ROCK QUARRY BORN
Ever alert to the demands of a growing Oakland, Blair noticed outcroppings of rock in his Piedmont acreage and noted, too, that Oakland’s streets needed rock. Thus was born Blair’s rock quarry, which operated until he struck water. Much later the quarry filled in and now is Dracena Park.
Oakland Tribune - Sun - Sep. 30, 1951:
Only then was Moraga Road finished with rough macadam, as was Vernal Avenue (Highland Avenue today) with rock taken from the Blair quarry, which is now a part of the Piedmont Park system, situate between Ricardo and Dracena Avenues, and the area about seven and one-half acres (the present board of trustees built better than they knew when they acquired this for public purposes). The promoters of the Piedmont Park subdivision, in company with Walter Blair, mostly if not all, are now passed over to the great majority, were James de Fremery, James Gamble, L. A. Booth, Timothy Barker, A. W. Bowman and others.
Oakland Tribune – Wed – Oct. 12, 1927:
OLD MACHINERY SEEN
In recent years the quarry has been drained partially, and the old machinery and trucks have been seen, attesting to the truth of the tradition. So deep is the water that when a platform for the park department greenhouse was wanted, more than 200 truckloads of rock and dirt were required to make the fill. Hein says: several cases of small boys drowning in the pool are said to be on record, and because of the evidence of the danger of the quiet water, a superstition persists that an octopus lives in the pool. This belief and the sign posted on the quarry rim have discouraged swimmers, Hein said.
The place is known as Blair quarry, at the western edge of the park. Besides being a duck pond, filled in areas are used for growing plants and a small nursery has been built. In the quarry more than 10,000 plants are produced yearly, according to Hein. Most of them are native California plants, later put into Dracena park and the community center.
History of Alameda County, California
by Merritt, Frank Clinton, 1928:
(Walter) Blair engaged in the dairy business, supplying milk and butter to the surrounding community. He also opened a quarry from which was taken much of the rock for paving the streets of Oakland in early days. Chinese coolies worked in this quarry; for years their foreman was a Spaniard by the name of Antone Schuman.
Antone is listed as a bookkeeper at 430 1/2 14th street in Oakland according to Langley's 1880 directory.
Bertram S Lockhart, 10 years old died in the Dracena pond. Oakland Tribune - Thu - Jun. 21, 1888
The pond and the ghost of the lake:
A Mysterious Pond in Piedmont –
San Francisco Chronicle - Sun - Jun, 28, 1896:
For years it has borne the name of “Blair’s pond,” and during its existence has hidden 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 of the martyrs to the dismal hole has been a good swimmer.
It is known for 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 in the depths. “If the waters could speak as they flow” they might tell the tale of three suicides and possibly one murder.
The pond is surrounded by a series of high bluffs, crowned on their tops by a long row of sparse gum trees, Bulrushes and water plants fringe the edges of the tiny lake, the gloomy surface of which is in striking contrast to the green, blossom-carpeted banks above.
This pond has a history and about it twine many peculiar facts which in some instances seem almost inexplicable.
Prior to 1872 there was not even a suggestion of water on the spot. At that time a firm of stone contractors named Bates & Wells, realized that hidden in the hills was a quantity of very valuable paving rock, which then commanded a big price from the city of Oakland. They conceived the idea of opening an extensive quarry and getting the city’s contract for the paging which was to be done. A long lease was obtained from Blair, the owner of the land. Then the first quarry in Alameda county was opened.
The stone proved of such excellent quality that an extensive plant was soon erected. Tracks were laid and small cars, worked by a windlass, conveyed the rock into the “dumps.” One hundred and fifty Italians were employed on the premises. The rock thus obtained was used in macadamizing Oakland’s principal streets.
With time the better quality of rock became scare, so orders were given to sink a wide shaft and work out the lower stratum. This task was undertaken in the summer of 1873 and had progressed with such good results that the hole was gradually enlarged until it covered considerable area. Then, again, it became necessary to go deeper into the hill.
This time extensive preparations were made for blasting. When all was ready a mighty charge was adjusted and with the explosion which followed a vast torrent of water sprouted forth from the excavation.
Before the astonished workmen has time to realize what happened they were knee deep in the flood. Their tools were submerged and it was with difficulty that the mules attached to the carts were rescued. The cars on the tracks remined laden with rock and to-day if the pool were drained the complete equipment would be found in the pit.
So sudden was the deluge that within an hour where once stood a prosperous quarry nothing was to be seen but a rising mass of water.
As soon as possible every effort was made to empty the new lake. Improved pumps of great power were set to work and thousands of gallons pumped away, but to no avail. Instead of diminishing, the volume of water increased, and finally, after many useless attempts, the first rock quarry and of the richest in Alameda county, was abandoned.
The water is over sixty feet in depth. Its circulation is a mystery. It contains strong central currents, but there is no overflow, except during rainy weather when a small stream trickles from it. During the major portion of the year, there is absolutely no outlet.
The water is peculiarly dark, and even on the warmest days is icy cold. Great boulders, only a few feet below the surface, are invisible and many a venturesome swimmer has found this out to his sorrow. Another queer property is the lack of buoyance in the water. Those who have bather in it say that swimming is a great exertion while without a decided effort a body will not float in it.
Some who have investigated say the bottom is now covered with a peculiar growth of weed and sword grass. The undergrowth is claimed to be very dense in places, while nearer the shore the blades are long and the edges very sharp.
From the near center, the main flow of water shoots upward in a spiral column, then it traverses nearly half the length of the pond, where the current ceases. Through this portion there is a much lower temperature than at any point. It is said at one time, strangely shaped fish inhabited the lake, though at present there is not know to be a living thing in it.
During the past years three persons have disappeared in the vicinity and two hats have been found at odd times on the surface of the pond. This led to the conclusion that some unfortunates had sought death in it, but although it was dragged thoroughly, the remains could not be found, no were the missing persons ever accounted for.
One of the last fatalities occurred within recent years, when a schoolboy, with some companions, went swimming. The lad was at home in the water, and the youngsters all followed him in. He plugged along until the current was reached, and then, with a cry, he threw up his hands and sank from sight. He never came to the surface again. In vain the pond was dragged, and the use of explosives was of no avail. Finally a professional swimming teacher named Fleming was hired to explore the place for the body. A long search underneath was at last rewarded by finding the remains of the poor lad tightly clutched in the grasp of the tenacious sword grass.
Fleming described his experience under the lake as anything but pleasant. The cold currents and dangerous weeds, together with the weirdness of the whole thing, made him glad when his onerous task was over, so no further investigations were attempted.
A legend, which is the property of every boy who has visited the lake runs like this:
Years ago a loving couple sat on the bluff above planning an elopement. They were not residents of Piedmont but had come from either Oakland or San Francisco. Under the bright moonlight they whispered their undying devotion, when hurried footfalls were heard. They belonged to the jealous rival. A fierce combat, it is said, followed between them, and finally a pistol shot rang out on the quiet night, followed by a heart-rending shriek, a death moan and the splash of a body falling into the water. A few days later a woman’s bonnet and shawl were noticed floating on the surface of the pond, and a corpse was discovered on the bank, but although there were signs of a struggle the Coroner’s jury returned a verdict of “unknown suicide,” and potter’s field contains the remains.
Storied of bodies lodged beneath the cars under the water are as frequent as many other ghostly tales. For some time it was declared that the spirit of the lady in the legend nightly hovered above the spot where the crime was supposed to have been committed. To this day residents can be found who say they have seen apparitions. But it is probable that Deputy Sheriff P. J. Keiler laid the ghost about four years ago when he broke up a robbers den located on the shores and landed the chief of the gang in San Quentin. Their complete outfit was taken, and it is supposed that occasionally the robbers, to sore the public from their haunts, took advantage of the many ghost stories and fitted up a fake specter for their own protection.
The water is palatable and useful for irrigation, yet no attempt has been made to utilize it in either way.
William Leach 16 years old died in the Dracena Pond. The Berkeley Gazette - Wed - Jul. 8, 1896
Oakland Tribune – Sun – Sep. 3, 1916:
If Edgar Allen Poe had lived in Oakland he could have used Piedmont’s mysterious lake as a theme for one of his weird fancies.
…The waters of the lake reflecting the shadows and darkness of the trees which furrowed it, give the appearance of a turbid, inky black, swirling pool which would delight the soul of Dante or Poe, and at dusk, when but a flicker of daylight lingers, one is indeed transported to the mythical “Dark tarn of Auber and the ghoul-haunted woodland of Wier.”
….The lake’s history, however, is sinister. Years ago, when Oakland began to consider the paving of its streets, and constructing road beds for street car lines, suitable material was sought near at hand.
The street car system at that time was practically controlled by one man named Blair. The main line ran from Seventh and Broadway to the cemetery gates with feeders from Sixteenth street depot along Fourteenth, a branch from Alameda and another from Piedmont Avenue through waving grain field to Piedmont Springs.
The one horse line which ran to the springs about four times daily traversed the vast Blair ranch, consisting of about 1000 acres and comprising practically what is now the city of Piedmont. Then it was fields of grain with not a habitation in sight with the exception of the mansion which reared its turrets above the distant trees, the home of one of Oakland’s pioneer bankers, the original landmark seen for miles around, and which stands today as good as of yore, although somewhat overshadowed by the shacks of the millionaires.
And so, in this peaceful and pastoral region, the haunted lake comes into being and in the following manner:
The roadbeds needed to be on rock ballasted, and the material was found in a hillside on the Blair ranch. Men with picks, shovels, blasting tools soon began to eat a great hole in the hill; tracks were laid and handcarts carried the rock away to fix up the tracks of the Blair system.
And then one day, when the workmen had gotten well into and down in the hillside, something happened: A great flow of water shot high in the air, of such volume and rapidity that the workmen dropped their tools and scrambled from the hole for their lives. They hung around for awhile, hoping the flow would cease and they could return to work, but it did not stop and the vast quarry was tuned into a lake.
After it was abandoned as a quarry it remained idleness for years. The waters of the lake never increased, never receded. The subterranean spring seemed to have struck its gait at least.
Alders and bushes grew in the crevices of the beetling cliffs and the tons of loose rock scattered about, and the character of the place was changed. Then it was discovered by some truant schoolboys and it soon gained some fame as a swimming pool, so a beaten path over the fields from Piedmont Avenue, as plain as the city sidewalk, told where the haunted lake lay hidden.
But the evil genii, or whatever it was that haunted the place, did not dies with the quarry, and at regular and frequent intervals some youngster was drowned in the black pool.
These calamities, occurring at such frequency, caused the popularity of the lake as a swimming hole to drop several points. Warnings were posted around the quarry, and nearly every schoolboy in Oakland at that time was warned and threated with a first class tanning, if ventured near the haunted lake.
Warnings have about as much effect on healthy and energetic youth as “peace talk” has on the belligerent nations today, and after the scare had worn off a few of the boldest and dare-devilish ones broke the barriers, and the surface of the clear waters of the haunted lake were again dimpled with ripples, and the beetling cliffs reverberated with the shouts of laughter and glee. The one fine summer’s day, when the pool was well patronized, the evil influence again got busy. The tell this time was the drowning of two boys; one of them took a dive and never came to the surface, and the other, when in a certain part of the lake, suddenly threw up his arms and with a shriek, disappeared beneath the waters as if some power beneath had dragged him under. One of the bodies was recovered by expert divers, but the other was never found and all this was twenty years ago or more.
This, the last horror of the haunted lake, sealed its doom. A fence was constructed around the entrance and notices posted to the effect that anyone caught swimming would be prosecuted. So for years the only force that ruffled the lake’s surface was an occasional wind rift. To be sure some exceptional daredevils, who came of a later generation and were not familiar with the lake’s grewsome character, would kick off a few pickets of the fence and lave in the inviting coolness of the waters, but they were promptly gathered in by the keeper watching the haunted lake.
The lake is still there today, and apparently the same as ever, the waters never seeming to decrease or increase, the somber trees growing above and about it throwing deep shadows on its surface and the section of railroad track that once carried the rock cars before the subterranean stream flooded the place protruding, corroded and twisted, like the tenancies of some unseen monster.
Various legends have been connected with it, but the one told and believed by the truants of thirty years ago seems to be the official one. This was to the effect that at one certain spot in the lake all the tragedies occurred and all in the same manner, the swimmer uttering a shriek, throwing his arms upward and disappearing.
Others maintained that a monster like an octopus made the lake its home, and one or two highly imaginative ones declared on oath that once, early in the morning on a summer’s day, that they had seen the devilish creature basking in the sun on a pile of rock and that it slid into the water, making a sound between hiss and a groan as it disappeared.
The spirits of the drowned quarrymen who still haunt the lake, in another legend, resent any intrusion on their resting place. Be that as it may, the haunted lake with its grewsome history, surrounded today by beautiful homes and bungalows with their air of cheer and brightness, is a dark spot in a new condition of things. Whether it is still an object lesson to a new generation of swimming youngsters or whether the sinister spell has been broken remains to be seen.
The spell may have been broken, and it may be perfectly safe place for swimming, stories to the effect of it being bottomless, with a strong current running through a subterranean tunnel to the contrary.
All its gruesomeness may be gone, and as a power for evil it may be dead, but it died hard, for at a certain time in the afternoon, during the summer months, at the right time for swimming, a great reflection is cast on the waters – due to a cliff formation and the somber trees – a warning to all swimmers in the shape of a gigantic death’s-head.
Oakland Tribune - Wed - Jul_7, 1976
Oakland Tribune - Tue - Nov. 16, 1976
The San Francisco Examiner - Wed - Mar. 12, 1986:
Nasty and anonymous: quarry plan under fire
This city's plan to develop the Dracena Park Quarry has brought a "scurrilous" letter to the state Parks and Recreation Department.
The letter came to light at a recent City Council meeting. Council members Steve Eigenberg said the letter was authored by "Poor Folk of Peripheral Piedmont" and contained "numerous ethnic slurs and scurrilous statements" but was unsigned.
Eigenberg said this type of unfortunate letter "was a wrong approach by residents opposed to the Quarry developments and certainly was contrary to the city's image-building efforts."
The city has applied to the state for a grant to complete the Dracena Park Quarry.
"...A call for bids to drill a well at the park and also to accept bids for the sale and removal of the greenhouse, the locker rooms and the garage that are at the park"
Oakland Tribune - Wed - Oct. 5, 1977