Monday, November 14, 2011

Oakland Urban Paths: secret stairs, fire and BART

Saturday morning, Oakland Urban Paths led a walk called "Secret Stairs, Fire and BART." The walk gives some beautiful views over the Bay Area, and some unusual views of the Claremont Hotel. A group of about 30 people met across from the Claremont Hotel, just over the border in Berkeley.

Given the shape of the border between Oakland and Berkeley, we crossed it several times during our walk. Besides an interesting border, the area is also known because it was devastated by the 1991 Oakland - Berkeley Firestorm. As a result, many of the homes are new, rebuilt after the fire, and use more fire-resistant materials like stucco, concrete and metal.

Along with seeing some interesting houses, we learned a bit about the history of the area. Hiller Highlands was named for Stanley Hiller, Sr. (both Stanley Sr. and Stanley Jr. were inventors.) Amongst Stanley Sr.'s inventions was a single channel for for underground utilities in the 1950s. He was unable to get PG&E interested, so he divided part of their property into a development of 27 lots, complete with underground utilities. The lots stood empty until 1963, when resistance by PG&E had faded. The Hiller mansion still stands, and is the main building of the Bentley School.

An area resident told us about the new-ish looking stairs that were thought to have been built by BART (they are on a hill above the BART tunnel to Orinda). It turns out that the original stairs had been built by Stanley Hiller at the time of the development. Those stairs were badly damaged in the '91 fire, and were rebuilt.

lots of photos:

A Google Map of our route for Secret Stairs, Fire and BART.

Be sure to join Oakland Urban Paths for their next walk on December 10th, Walk and Shop. It's a chance to explore some of the urban paths between Lakeshore and Piedmont Avenue, and to do a little holiday shopping while supporting Oakland businesses.

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