Gravity Loop - 1894-1895 Newspaper Articles
Collected by Joe Thompson

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These articles, from The San Francisco Call, discuss the Consolidated Piedmont Cable Company's gravity loop. Many cable car lines were designed so that cars would drop the cable and coast for stretches, as San Francisco's Powell Street lines do between California and the block between Washington and Jackson. The gravity loop was unique because cars could pull up their grips and coast down a different route, stopping at a popular recreation site, Blair Park.

Terminal Tract

From the San Francisco Morning Call / Thursday, October 30, 1890. Page 8.

E. A. Heron was one of the original directors of the Consolidated Piedmont Cable Company. He was later president of the road.


E. A. Heron of 1050 Broadway has subdivided the Terminal Tract situated on the Piedmont cable system and within one block of Blair Park. The situation is one of the best on this line, being at the junction of the cable and gravity loop, with a frontage on the cable system of 727 feet. The view from this point is unobstructed and the Golden Gate, San Francisco, Oakland and surrounding country may be seen from each lot in the subdivision. Streets have been graded and cement sidewalks laid, and the city water is piped to the property. There is communication with San Francisco every fifteen minutes.

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Picturesque Piedmont

From the San Francisco Morning Call / Sunday, March 22, 1891. Page 8.

Blair Park in 2009 is the subject of a controversy about building athletic fields. I have never been to Blair Park because it is "the resort entirely of the better class." William Hammond Hall was first superintendent of Golden Gate Park. The soon-to-open Acquatic Theater became known as the Piedmont Baths. Colonel Jack Hays was a Texas Ranger and Mexican War veteran who settled in the area.
Blair Park "Some Interesting Bits About Piedmont."
Blair Park detail A detail of the illustration, showing a cable car on the gravity loop, pausing at the gate of Blair Park. May, 2009 Picture of the Month.


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 ranch including which was long known as Bushy Dell, on account of the wooded and romantic character of the ravine or glen in which the springs are situated, were known in early days and were already then much resorted to. It was these springs that first made Piedmont a favorite. Finally in 1868, 1869 and 1870 there was somewhat of a "boom," and Piedmont lands began to be sought after. This died away, however, and, except that the springs were always popular, but little attention was paid to the locality. The progressive history of Piedmont may be said to have had its commencement with the formation in 1877 of the Piedmont Land Company, composed of James Gamble (President), James de Fremery. George W. Beaver, L. A. Booth and T. L. Barker, all well-known and prominent citizens. They owned a considerable tract of land at Piedmont since the time already named. Having thorough confidence in the future and, moreover, possessing the courage and the means to accomplish their purpose, these gentlemen summoned William Hammond Hall, the distinguished civil and landscape engineer, to the task of laying out and subdividing the property. This he did, with the assistance of M. G. King, C.E., of Oakland. To their labors is due the admirable method upon which Piedmont is planned, with its winding avenues which follow the natural undulations of the ground and add artificial grace to the high inherent beauties of the spot. Upon the completion of this work the property found ready sale, and many handsome and elegant residences arose within the parklike region. To this company is also owing the fact that Piedmont is so admirably supplied with water. In addition to the numerous springs which break forth spontaneously at different points the main pipes of the Contra Costa Water Company are led through the section, the connection being made with the main reservoir in the mountains, affording a head of water of great strength. A horse-car line supplied access. This closes the second period of the history of Piedmont.


Is the creation of the past three years, and its growth, which is only yet gathering headway, is matter of astonishment.

Right here it is proper to say that Piedmont has been singularly fortunate, not only has she wonderful natural advantages, but she has had energetic and capable men to profit by these and fittingly to undertake and carry out stupendous works to make these advantages available. Chief among these, of course, is


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,

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


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.


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


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.

Another means adopted by the company to cause travel on the Piedmont cable road is the erection of the great aquatic theater beside the power house. No attempt will be made to describe it here, that duty being postponed until the opening a few weeks hence. Suffice it now to say the building is ornate and elegant, the accommodation and equipment promises to be most complete and the baths can hardly fail of being very popular. This, too, is being efficiently constructed by the San Francisco Tool Company, who make a specialty of that kind of work.


In regard to climate it is claimed that Piedmont is not surpassed by any locality in the State. It is above the ordinary frost line and is often free from the heavy fogs which settle in the lowlands. Careful tests show the temperature at night to be an average of about five degrees warmer than in Oakland. In summer the trade winds which are so severe in San Francisco often fail to reach Piedmont, and when they do they are tempered with mildness. By kindness of Mr. James Gamble a comparative table of average temperatures at Oakland, San Rafael and Piedmont is given from observations taken by him in January a few years since:
Oakland7 a. m., 452 p. m., 588 p. m., 51
San Rafael7 a. m., 472 p. m., 638 p. m., 53
Piedmont7 a. m., 482 p. m., 608 p. m., 55


On a clear day the view is almost unsurpassable, a panorama lying displayed before the eye that even the famous Bay of Naples cannot excel. The two cities, Oakland and San Francisco, on either side of the peaceful, land-locked sea, lie in perfect bird's-eye, while the Golden Gate, flanked by its protecting body-guard of hills, presents a picture never to be forgotten. In plain view are classic Berkeley, the stately eminences of Piedmont itself crowned with elegant homes, the spires of Oakland, the lawns of Alameda, and so on as far as the eye can range. The late J. Ross Browne, who was a famous traveler, declared of Piedmont that "he had traveled almost over the world, and he could remember no other place where the view was more extended, beautiful and diversified."


In consequence of these attractions and these improvements there has been almost a phenomenal rise in values, and even yet the prices are considered low for so advantageous a location near a metropolitan city. Three years ago property was fetching in acreage lots from $1500 to $2000 an acre, and the Pleasant Valley property, etc, intervening, from $500 to $600. To-day, in subdivisions, choicer locations reach $9000 or thereabouts, while undivided tracts near the cable cannot be touched for less than $3000 an acre. At the present time there are several desirable tracts that are receiving marked attention. Linda Vista Terrace, on the first large plateau reached by the cable-road, is noteworthy, commanding a capital view and being very desirable, with graded, sidewalked and sewered streets, etc. The Stanford Tract is now being got in order, and will be thoroughly improved and "citified" before being placed on market. The Hunton Tract, adjoining the terminus of the cable-road, is another attractive property on easy terms. The Piedmont Tract, directly facing the terminus of the road, is proving popular with investors. The same may be said of the Terminal Tract and many others, lots in which are being sold at bargain prices on easy terms.


An adjoining section that must not be omitted while speaking of Piedmont is Hays Canyon, the romantic valley just behind the ridge that receives its name from having long been the home of the famous Colonel Jack Hays. Here is found the beautiful home of W. J. Dingee, the Oakland real estate dealer, with its fine conservatories and thrifty orchards of prunes, apricots, olives and pears -- 35 acres orchard and over 1000 in all. This place is well worthy of a visit. Lower down are the fine places also of Mrs. Kohler. Judge R. M. Gibson, Mrs. Field and others.


Of Piedmont is undoubtedly bright. These high lands are being sought out as the sites for beautiful homes. For health and pleasure people of wealth and culture always seek the higher grounds. Already Piedmont counts among her people such names as those of ex-Governor George C. Perkins, I. Requa, L. A. Booth. F. E. D. Myers, J. B. Richardson, James Gamble, Mr. Randall, J. L. Wetmore, R. W. Wing, A. W. Bowman, E. R. Elrod, Hugh Craig, A. Aldrich, E. W. Roberts Jr. and many others well known in every circle, whose beautiful homes and grounds would ornament any locality, while now that the cable road is running many more are coming in. Since its arrival about thirty new structures have gone up or are now in course of erection, some of them costing $8000 to $10,000.

To sum up, Piedmont possesses a favorable climate, has an unequaled prospect, is easily and cheaply reached, has famous medicinal springs and is the abode of wealthy and public-spirited men.

The future of Piedmont -- "gem of California" -- is undoubtedly bright.

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Leasing the Gravity Loop

From the San Francisco Morning Call / Friday, September 7, 1894. Page 4.

Receiver Ira Bishop represented the San Francisco Tool Company, which built the road.

from Notes.

Receiver Ira Bishop of the Consolidated Piedmont Cable Company was granted permission yesterday to lease the Blair's Park and gravity loop property lor one year.

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Drowned in the Lake of Mystery

From the San Francisco Morning Call / Wednesday, July 8, 1896. Page 13.

I have not been able to figure out if this lake still exists. Maps show some ponds near Highland Avenue and Moraga Avenue.


Willie Leach Meets the Fatal Current in Blair's Pond.



The Warning to Bathers Seems to Have Been Regarded as an Invitation.

Oakland Office San Francisco Call, 908 Broadway, July 7.

The lake of mystery near the Blair ranch in the Piedmont hills has claimed another victim. William Leach, a boy 16 years of age, was drowned this morning while bathing in the lake.

Young Leach was the only child of a widowed mother, who is at present employed as a domestic by James Stanley at Mission San Jose. The boy lived with the Arlett family on Brush street and worked for a lithographing firm. Being a legal holiday the lad was visiting in Piedmont, where he formerly resided.

Leach and some other lads went hunting this morning, and while his companion hunted around the lake Willie decided to take a swim. When his companion saw Leach sinking he tried to throw a plank to him, but he could not reach it. No one else was near and Leach drowned before assistance could be summoned.

In the center of the lake there is a very cold current, and whenever a swimmer reaches it he is invariably seized with cramps. The lake is a veritable trap and has claimed more victims during its short existence than any other sheet of water in the county.

About eight years ago there was a stone quarry in the hills. The workmen were at their noontide meal when they heard a great noise. Where a blast had just taken place a great body of water rushed up from the earth. The men had barely time to escape, and their tools and wagons were speedily submerged.

The carts and implements are still at the bottom of the lake, which has remained permanently. The sheet of water is just about an acre in area and is very deep in the middle. Over where the spring is supposed to be there is an icy current and every year since the quarry in the hills became a lake it has claimed some victims.

There is a notice posted near the lake warning bathers that it is dangerous to go into the water, but so far the warning seems to have been regarded in the light of an invitation.

The body of young Leach has not yet been recovered, but friends will drag the lake. The mysterious pond is located to the right of the gravity-loop of the Piedmont cable road. It is about a quarter of a mile south of the entrance to Blair Park.

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Trouble Over Assessments

From the San Francisco Morning Call / Sunday, July 11, 1897. Page 9.

Various railroads and street railroads kept Assessor Dalton very busy, as we also saw in the article "Battle Over Assessments." This reflects lingering problems caused by the Panic of 1893, our worst economic depression before 1929.


Piedmont Railroad Company Asks for a Nominal Valuation.

Wants the Figures of the Assessor Reduced to One-Quarter.

Contra Costa Water Company Also Values Its Franchises at a Trifle.

Oakland Office San Francisco Call. 908 Broadway, July 10.

The Supervisors held their first meeting to-day as a Board of Equalization. There are several applications on file, but it is known that there wilt be many more during the coming week.

Assessor Dalton has placed the value of the Southern Pacific property, at the figures he valued it last year, and as it was greatly reduced by the Supervisors the company will certainly ask that it be reduced.

The most important application heard to-day was that of the Piedmont and Mountain View Railroad Company, who ask that the value of their property be reduced from $231,925 to $66,925, about one-fourth of the Assessor's figures.

The details of the application show just where the company estimate the big cuts should be made. They ask that the Washington-street line be reduced from $16,450 to $8000, Broadway line, $24,000 to $10,000; Clay-street line, $9150 to $3500; Webster avenue line, $15,950 to $3000; Oakland avenue line, $18,250 to $6000; power-house lots from $4000 to $2750; power-house improvements, $20,000 to $5000; cars, machinery, etc, $43,000 to $19,500; Washington-street franchise from $5000 to $25; Broadway franchise, $7500 to $25; Twenty-fourth street franchise, $1000 to $25; Fourteenth street and Peralta, $7500 to $25; Webster avenue line, $14,600 to $3000; the gravity loop, $2000 to $l000; other franchises assessed at $12,500 to $75.

Ira Bishop, manager of the road, stated that the property had greatly depreciated during the past year because of the abandonment of certain portions which had hitherto been considered valuable. He said that changing the road from a cable to an electric line had also reduced the value of the property. Mr. Bishop said that the property, compared with San Francisco assessments, would be equitably assessed at the reduced figures asked for by the company.

Assessor Dalton objected to the arguments of Mr. Bishop, and asked the board to investigate me matter by next Monday, and then to finally hear the matter, and this suggestion was adopted.

J. H. T. Watkins, the agent of the Contra Costa Water Company, made applications to have the franchises of his company reduced to a nominal figure. The company wants the following reductions made: Franchise in Brooklyn Township, from $25,000 to $100; in Oakland Township, from $25,000 io $100; in Eden Township, $26,000 to $100. and in the city of Oakland, $75,000 to $100.

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Gravity Loop Removed

From the San Francisco Morning Call / Saturday, September 1, 1900. Page 11.

The Oakland Transit Company removed the loop because the company no longer operated the park.

Piedmont Gravity Loop Removed.

OAKLAND. Aug. 31.--The Oakland Transit Company is removing the track from the gravity loop on its Piedmont branch. By this loop, which was built before the introduction of electricity and was considered a novel feat of engineering, cars formerly ran from the Piedmont terminus past Oakland park and back to the main line. The fact that the railroad company no longer has an interest in the park is given as the reason for the removal.

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