Friday, August 3, 2012

Oakland's Walkways and Streetcar Heritage

The recent Oakland Heritage Alliance (OHA) walking tour, Oakland's Walkways and Streetcar Heritage, was more like an Oakland Urban Paths (OUP) walk. Not just more walking than your usual OHA tour, but a lot of stairs and pathways, too. As is frequently the case in Oakland, the stairs and pathways were designed for connecting neighborhoods to the streetcars. Despite it being described as "a long hilly walk of over 2 miles and at least 500 steps" it sold out quickly.

Key System building

The walk was led by Jason Patton, the Bicycle & Pedestrian Program Manager for the Oakland Public Works Agency. We started downtown across from the Key System building, which you may recall from the OUP Jane's Walk in May. It's a fitting starting point for any talk about Oakland's streetcars, and it has a large mural showing one of the Key System trains.

Then we hopped on AC Transit bus #18 over to the Glenview neighborhood. The choice of bus was fitting, too, as it follows an old Key System route. The route goes past Lakeshore and East 18th Street, which was the location of the East Oakland Car Barn, then up Park Boulevard.

We got off the bus near Elsinore Walk, the first of the many walkways and paths we covered. It's a well-marked and well-maintained pathway that connects several streets to Park Blvd. where the Key System ran. Jason told us about the rise and fall of streetcars in Oakland. As I noted on the OUP Montclair walk, there was a conspiracy by the auto and oil companies to bring an end to the streetcars. But it was more complicated than that: America was already shifting to automobiles; the Key System and other streetcar systems were in various states of disrepair. While "Borax" Smith and the Realty Syndicate had motivation to build the streetcar system (selling real estate), they didn't have motivation to necessarily maintain it once the real estate was sold.

A series of stairs and walkways (many of which would be familiar to people who took the OUP Lakeshore to Park Blvd. walk in January) took us into Crocker Highlands. Unfortunately, a few of the stairs are in very bad shape as the ground under them has shifted. We did see many lovely homes and meet some friendly neighbors, but it made for slow going overall.

Then it was down to Lakeshore, where we wrapped up the tour. People had the option of exploring Lakeshore and Grand Avenue, or hopping on a bus back to downtown.

More pictures:

For those looking for write-ups of more recent OHA walks, they're coming. I'm behind on posts in general and OHA walks in particular.

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