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Piedmont Cable Company

Piedmont Cable Company (cable), August 17, 1890 - 1895

History of Alameda County, California by Merritt, Frank Clinton, 1928:


In 1880 the Blairs deemed that it would be profitable to construct a railroad into the Piedmont district. In that year they built a private road through the Blair Ranch to the Piedmont Springs Hotel; the road was owned exclusively by the Blair family.


In 1888, responding to the demand for more adequate transportation facilities, the citizens of the Piedmont district called a meeting to discuss the proposal for constructing a cable railway. Cable cars had been operated with success in the hilly city across the Bay. The project was approved and the Piedmont cable line was built and completed in 1890. The cars were operated along a cable 3,600 feet long. On the opening day, more than twenty thousand persons journeyed from points throughout the Bay region to see the new line in operation and to view the beautiful panorania of land and water which still lures homeseekers to the Piedmont region.


Back in 1890. Oakland Avenue hill was a busy thoroughfare with a double-track cable line, construction of which is shown in the center picture, while today it is a modern residence street. A turntable was built at Highland avenue and Oakland avenue, which was then known as Pleasant Valley road and traversed a farming country that supplied milk to Oakland. The picture at the right shows Oakland avenue hill as it is today and on the left is the new concrete bridge at Oakland avenue where it crosses Grand avenue, as taken by a TRIBUNE staff photographer. In the old days, the cable car which was built by the pioneer, Walter Blair, after whom Blair Park was named, would run on Oakland avenue to Highland avenue in Piedmont, where a turntable would swing it around, the gripman would release the grips and the car would run down the hill to what was known as Blair's Park, which is now a cemetery.

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.," 

Oakland Tribune - Sun - Jan. 16, 1966:


It was only a dirt road, although there was some paving on the Oakland side of the line. The first year we lived there we had to come out on the Oakland Avenue car line, get off at Sunnyside and walk down the hill, Only the top of the hill was paved. The part to Pleasant Valley Road was just a path.

"About a year later the Grand Avenue 'dinky' was put on. It ran from the Piedmont line to about where the Freeway now crosses Grand. Then passengers would transfer to the Lakeshore Streetcar. "The dinky was almost like a private car line. I would yell and wave at the conductor as I came out the front door. He would hold the dinky until I got on. Fare, 5 cents. And we would 'lickety split for the transfer point to make connections. "Fairview was not paved either at that time. "In 1915 we moved back downtown. "Too far out in the country,' my mother complained.”

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From the San Francisco Morning Call -

Sunday, March 22, 1891. Page 8:


Glimpses of a Region of Delightful Hollies.

The Piedmont Cable Company and Its Enterprise --

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

Piedmont has always been considered one of the most favored as well as famous of Oakland's charming suburbs.

Although the hillsides and valleys that bound Oakland on the north and east, and which, speaking generally, are sometimes called Oakland Heights, were early taken up by settlers, who utilized them for farming and stock raising, there yet seems to have been no definite conception of their great future value until comparatively late days.


The task presented to whose projectors was not only to construct a road of great engineering difficulty, but to create a traffic for the road when built. How this is being accomplished makes an interesting story.

The Piedmont branch of the Consolidated Piedmont Cable Company's line, the only one as yet constructed, is some three miles in length and forms the bond of connection between the heart of Oakland and the summit of Piedmont ridge. Their gigantic engine-house is situated on the low ground just at the head of Lake Merritt. Two cables are operated, the one serving the lower or city portion of the present line and the other the upper, or Piedmont section. It is this latter that has especial interest for us. It is carried over a rolling and difficult country, crossing deep ravines on trestle bridges and rising at a rapid pace to the terminal point on Vernal avenue, which is at an elevation of about 400 feet above the city of Oakland. A novel device was adopted from the terminal point, where the grip, THE GRAVITY LOOP Is lifted and the car coasts down the grade, propelled only by the force of gravity, but so thoroughly under control that it can be stopped within a few feet to the entrance of Blair's Park and thence returns by a winding course to the main track, some quarter of a mile below the terminus, where the cable is again taken.

The officers of the company are: Montgomery Howe, President; E. A. Heron, Vice-President, and H. P. Garthwaite, Superintendent and Secretary. Among the projectors should be prominently mentioned the Howes and Mrs. Blair, who contributed largely to the cost of building, and especially Messrs. A. W. Bowman and E. A. Heron for their energy in pushing matters forward. The latter gentleman was the financial agent for the company and is responsible for securing all the funds by which the road was built. The San Francisco Tool Company, which makes a specialty of railroad construction, were the builders, having contracted for every part of the Piedmont road from breaking ground to completion. It is but just to say that to the ingenious and fertile brain, as well as the capable management of the energetic manager of the Tool Company, Mr. Ira Bishop, is due to a large degree the adoption of the many labor-saving devices in construction and equipment which have made the road a success. It is solidly and well constructed. The cost of the construction was something like $800,000. To help get a return for this money the company leased.

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Oakland Tribune - Thu - -Oct. 9, 1890


The San Francisco Morning Call - Sun - March 22, 1891

The Western Railroader For the Western Railfan  1960-10:

Vol 23 Supplement, Publication date 1960:

The second cable venture was launched by James Gamble, one of the pioneer developers of Piedmont. The Piedmont Consolidated Cable Company had two sections, both operating out of a power station at 24th and Harrison Sts. One ran through Oakland, down Broadway from 24th St. south to 14th St., west to Clay, south to 8th, east to Washington and back to 14th, making a loop. The other ran from the station, out the right-of-way previously used by the horse car line on Piedmont Ave. to Mountain View Cemetery.


The cable car was pulled to a turntable at Oakland and Highland Aves., then was released for a gravity run to Blair’s Park and the cemetery and a hook-up with the cable for the return trip downtown. The first cable car hauled to Piedmont was in August of 1890 and more than 20,000 residents turned out for the event. Despite excitement of the day, the cable car was no answer to the hue for more rapid transportation, especially between Oakland and Berkeley.

Oakland Tribune - Fri - Aug. 1, 1890:

Upon and closed Cars to be Used on the Piedmont Cable Road.
Superintendent J. J. Sullivan told TRIBUNE reporter yesterday that the company intends to do everything in its power
to prevent injury to passengers on the road. The bridges will be covered with fire proof paint and watched by watchmen and the cuts will all be drained and watched, so as to prevent land slides at any time.

The cars of the new company are handsome ones. Halt will be open and the others closed-something of the same design as the Market street cars in San Francisco. The roofs are six or eight inches higher than those of other cars, so as to give passengers a better view of the scenery on the route. The brakes are very powerful and can stop a car on the steepest grade on the road in its own length. The grip is 50 arranged that it may be raised from the trench by means of a lever and chain, so that no time is lost in getting into the gravity switch at Piedmont. The
cars mill be painted green.


Key System Streetcars: Transit, Real Estate and the Growth of the East Bay

Book by Vernon J. Sappers, 1990


Blair and several associates formed the Broadway, Berkeley & Piedmont Railroad Company on November 14, 1887, to convert the existing horse car lines to cable. The new company, capitalized at $500,000, was organized to build a line eight miles long, and intended to acquire the Broadway & Piedmont. This was accomplished through an exchange of $100,000 in stock.


Working with Blair were Montgomery Howe and Samuel Howe, two of his associates on the Fourteenth Street Railroad. However, soon there-after Walter Blair died and the project languished.


On May 16, 1889, a new company, the Consolidated Piedmont Cable Company, capitalized at $1 million, was organized by Mrs. Blair, the two Howes, Daniel Meyer, Ira Bishop, E.A. Heron and Wilson E. Morse. Construction began almost at once. The line looped Clay Street, Eighth Street and Washington Street, then used 14th Street to cross San Pablo and turn onto Broadway. Here it crossed the tracks of the Oakland Cable Railway. Being the more recent company, its cable or “rope" ran beneath those of the Oakland Cable Railway. This was called an "inferior” crossing and as such the CPC cars were required to drop the cable, coast over the crossing and pick up the cable on the other side. A flagman may have been stationed here to ensure the coasting car was given right of way.


The line then followed Broadway north to 24th Street and used 24th Street to Harrison, where it veered onto Harrison and ran to Hamilton Place. Cable lines usually were built in streets, but this line in its ascent up the 12 to 14 percent grades on Oakland Avenue left the graded road at the intersection with Monte Vista Avenue and entered approximately 4,000 feet of private right-of-way, crossing a deep ravine on a substantial wooden trestle. Today the site is marked by a concrete arch bridge over Linda Avenue.


The street was rejoined at Hillside Avenue in Piedmont and continued to Vernal Avenue (now Highland Avenue) where a turntable and a small shelter were located. Normal weekday operations called for the cars to be turned here and sent back down Oakland Avenue to downtown.


On Sundays and holidays the cars, upon reaching the Vernal Avenue turntable, were turned 90 degrees and sent coasting down Vernal Avenue by gravity on single track to the entrance of Blair Park on Moraga Avenue. This was an amusement park located in a wooded ravine near the intersection of what is now Highland and Moraga Avenues. It was developed by Blair to promote growth and real estate development in the Piedmont area and featured events such as balloon ascensions and sporting contests. Upon leaving Blair Park the gravity line, advertised as the “finest scenic cable ride on the coast,” rounded a sweeping curve and continued through open fields and small cuts and crossed several bridges while offering a magnificent view of the bay area below. Rejoining the Oakland Avenue portion of the line, near what is now Carmel Avenue, the grip would be lowered back into the cable slot and the car would proceed down Oakland Avenue.

[...]The line opened between the power house and Piedmont on August 1, 1890, and to downtown Oakland on August 20 of the same year. About 20,000 persons are said to have ridden on the opening day of the completed line.


[...]The combination cars were similar to the 12 built for the Oakland Cable Railway except that the windows and roofs were six inches higher than usual to provide passengers a better view of scenery on the route up Oakland Avenue.


As delivered, the cars were painted a rich green. 

The cable operation quickly failed financially in the panic and slump of 1893. Its high construction cost and inefficiency of operation compared to electric lines were major factorsin its failure. The line went into receivership on November 1, 1893. In 1894 some company property was sold at a sheriff's sale to satisfy a $19,028 claim by the Oregon Improvement Company. Next the bond holders asked the California Supreme Court in 1894 to force management to electrify the line; management changes followed with F.A. Ross retiring as assistant superintendent and L.A. Abell, the company electrician, named as replacement.


On March 20, 1895, the property was sold for $82,000 to the only bidder, Charles R. Bishop of the Bank of California, representing the bond holders. Five days later a committee met to reorganize the company as the Piedmont & Mountain View Railway, with Bishop, S.C. Bigelow, E.A. Heron, John H. Spring and Homer King as directors. Bishop and Heron were major stockholders.

Oakland Tribune - Sun - Jun. 11, 1916

Mining and Scientific Press (Jan.-June 1894)

Receiver Ira Bishop of the Piedmont Cable Company, Oakland, proposes to reduce the operating expenses at least $12,000 a year by changing the road from Eighth and Washington streets to Mountain View Cemetery from a cable to an electric line. The motive power of the Piedmont branch from the power-house will still be a cable, owing to the heavy grades on that line.

TO THE WEST IN 1894, Travel journal of Dr James Douglass English of Worthington, Indiana, p79:

Friday, August 3:


…We then went by rail from the wharf to Oakland and stopped at the Galindo Hotel. We then took the Piedmont or Blair Park cable car through orange, lemon, peach, and apricot groves to the end of the line. Here the car is cut loose from the cable and by gravitation makes a circuitous run of a mile, stopping at one station en route, landing back at the starting point to be connected again to the cable for the return trip. The loop trip is accomplished by the force of gravitation. In descending one slope the car gains sufficient momentum to carry it over the crest of the next hill. So we traveled down hill and then up, back to the place we started. From here we took a Hayward car to the end of the line, a fifteen and a half mile run, passing through San Leandro. We arrived at Hayward at 10:40 and left there via an electric line at 11:03, which made excellent time, passing through one of the largest fruit ranches in the county, consisting of 132 acres and producing a great variety of high-standard fruits and nuts. We arrived in Oakland at 12:00 noon, had dinner, then took an electric car for Alameda. Here we spent a short time and then returned to Oakland. We went to the passenger station and there learned we could get a train leaving for Sacramento within a few minutes. We at once boarded the narrow gauge car to Oakland Pier, arriving just in time to catch the Sacramento train which pulled out at 4:32 P.M.


When the conductor, accompanied by the check clerk, came through, I handed him my ticket. I think it was the first one of that kind he had ever been confronted with, for he scrutinized it closely and then handed me a small book and pencil saying, “Sign your name.” This I did.

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One picture says 1889 and the other 1895 - but they look almost identical.

Oakland Tribune - Sun - Apr. 15, 1962

THE 136-FOOT brick chimney of the old powerhouse for the Consolidated Piedmont Cable Company is gone, but much of the engine house and carbarns remain today. After studying the photo on this page you may recognize the structure as today's Shepard Cadillac-Pontiac agency. Visiting the building this week we met Russell Brickell, general sales manager, old-time employe at the agency. Brickell in 1910 delivered Oakland Tribunes from bundles dropped out front of the old cable carbarns. He recalled that "the John C. Adams home stood across the street where the Congregational Church now stands, and for a long time there was a small grocery store in the corner of the old carbarns at 24th and  Harrison. The old Piedmont Baths have been gone for some time, but there will be many who remember when the boilers of the powerhouse furnished steam for the swimming tank. I can also remember the old building as a skating rink, as the headquarters for a club of wheelmen, and a pavilion where prize fights were staged. I earned money as a boy sweeping the place out when it was a rink," Brickell recalls. He also remembers it as the Mormon Garage before Don Lee and Associates took it over as an automobile salesroom. For some years previous the Pacific Gas & Electric Company owned the property and sold power to streetcar lines in Oakland. No matter what the period, this historic building at 24th and Harrison appears to have been a popular spot for business or pleasure.


The former Piedmont powerhouse at 27th and Harrison Streets in

Oakland is now a Whole Foods Market (230 Bay Pl, Oakland)

Piedmont Power house.jpg

The Western Railroader, Feb 1959


Walter Blair, Samuel and Montgomery Howe, and Mr. DeFremery had organized the Piedmont Cable Cable Co. in in 1890 and bought 22 new double-truck cable cars from Hammond Car Co. which they placed into service between downtown Oakland and the Piedmont hills. Several of their horse car lines were contemplating converting into cable. Late in 1891, track was laid for cable operation on West 16th Street between the 16th Street depot and Peralta Street, but work was halted on this project when it was learned that the Oakland Consolidated Street Railway was building an electric line on Howe Street to the Catholic Cemetery. Realizing that this new line would offer serious competition to their horse car system on Piedmont Avenue, the backers of the Piedmont Cable Co. immediately started the construction of a branch cable line from 24th & Broadway via Broadway, Piedmont Avenue to the Mt. View Cemetery gate.


This was completed on August 3, 1892, two months before the new competitive electric line was opened. By this time it was decided to electrify the West 14th Street horse car line. On April 1, 1892, work was resumed from W. 16th Street and Peralta via Peralta Street to W. 14th Street, then east on W. 14th Street to Washington Street, and south on Washington Street to Central Avenue (12th Street). Narrow gauge, 3'6" track was used and trolley wire was suspended from wooden poles on each side of the street. Power would be supplied from the Piedmont Cable power house at 24th and Harrison.


During this reconstruction period, five single-truck electric cars were ordered and received from Hammond Car Builders in San Francisco. These were of the California type (open ends, closed center) and were mounted on Brill single trucks, each car boasting two W.P. 30 motors. They were painted orange with gold gilt trim and numbered 101-105 inclusive. Each car had the Rheostat controller. Also at this time, two line cars and one 20-foot flat bed service car were built at the car house.


In October, 1892, the W. 14th Street line as it would be called, was completely rebuilt to an electric road and on October 28, 1892, the first trial run was made. Regular service was started on November 2, 1892. Four additional cars were ordered from Hammond Car Builders and were received in February, 1893. These were trimmed the same as the original five and numbered 106-109 inclusive. The only difference in the second lot was that they were equipped with J controllers.


In October, 1893, the company was forced into receivership when interest on its bonds was defaulted. The court appointed Ira Bishop of Piedmont, who was president of the San Francisco Tool Co. and who had furnished much for the cable road, receiver. The company became known as the Consolidated Piedmont Cable Co. and the new owners had recognized that electric railways might prove preferable to the cable system. It was estimated by the receiver that switchover would reduce operating expenses by $14,600 a year.


These properties were operated by the Consolidated Piedmont Cable Co., until sold at a foreclosure, March 19, 1895. At the sale they were bought by the bond holders' committee for $62,000 and were conveyed to the Piedmont and Mountain View Railway Co. on April 1, 1895.

Pacific service magazine by Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Publication date 1912:

"Oakland Avenue Cable Line.

The Oakland Avenue cable line was built by the Piedmont & Mountain View Railway, and ran from Fourteenth and Washington streets west to Clay Street, south on Clay Street to Eighth Street, east on Eighth Street to Washington Street, north on Washington Street to Fourteenth Street, east on Fourteenth Street to Broadway, north on Broadway to Twenty-fourth Street, east on Twenty-fourth Street to Oakland Avenue, north on Oakland Avenue to Vernal Avenue, at which point the cable ended. The cars then ran by gravity north on Vernal Avenue to Blair's Park, and through fields to a junction with the cable line on Oakland Avenue, west of Vernal Avenue, where the cable was again picked up. This line began operating on August 17, 1890.


Oakland Tribune - Sun - Apr. 15, 1962

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