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"The Real Scoop"
Piedmont is a town around which Oakland grew during the last century. It controls its own schools, rec department, and public services, and because it's only 10,000 people and 3500 homes, and 2 mi x 1 mi, no one is further than about a mile from the civic center (middle/high schools, police, fire and city hall). It sits on the side of the hill, between Lake Merritt and Montclair, and between the Oakland Cemetery (designed by Frederick Law Olmstead) and Park Boulevard--we're about 30% non-white (a greater percentage than that in the schools/younger population), and a majority vote Democratic (according to state stats).
In some ways, Piedmont neighborhoods track the expansions and contractions of the housing markets over the years. Right downtown (both above AND below Highland Avenue), were original homes here before the 1906 earthquake. These are Victorian homes, and they were built when the area was mostly cow pasture. Lots were large and many of those homes were also very large--money for them often came from the Gold Rush-related businesses. Homes were often built of redwood (which is very termite and dry rot resistant).
Just after the earthquake in San Francisco, there was a lurch of population and development to downtown Piedmont, again, mostly above and below Highland Avenue, and then down near Piedmont Avenue's commercial area (Greenbank Avenue, and so on). The town was officially incorporated in 1907. Edwardian style homes were built seemingly overnight, along with Havens Elementary School and Beach Elementary (near Piedmont Avenue). [One of those homes is now our Rec Department, right downtown.] High school students went to what is now Oakland Tech near Piedmont Avenue. As a result, this downtown or Central Piedmont neighborhood is filled with historic homes, well-organized streets with sidewalks, and within walking distance of those schools, city hall and the fire and police departments. Prices here tend to be at or above the city-wide averages, reflecting buyer interests in the historic homes and architecture, along with walkability. From the downtown area, kids can walk to school starting in kindergarten, they can walk across the yard to before- or after-school care (til 6 pm) and parents can catch casual carpool or wi-fi equipped buses to downtown Oakland, or express buses to downtown San Francisco (a 25 minute ride).
As the years rolled into the Roaring 20s, Piedmont got a reputation as the City of Millionaires, at least for West Coast businesses. Unlike San Francisco itself, we had fabulous views of the Bay and San Francisco. Another building cycle proceeded, resulting in gorgeous (and sometimes very large) often Mediterranean style homes further to the south of the central Piedmont area. Some (for instance along upper Wildwood Ave. and Crocker Ave.) remain very close to the downtown area. Other homes in this era are further afield to the south, and parents typically drive at least younger kids to school. And finally others, closer to Piedmont Avenue and across Grand Avenue--so-called "Baja Piedmont," are a bit more compact in size and very close to the casual carpool and bus stop on Oakland Avenue a short walk from Beach Elementary. (Wildwood Elementary was built in the 20s, closer to The Grand/Lakeshore shopping area.)
During the Depression and World War II, little construction occurred, but postwar, remaining parts of the City were developed, in the classic mid-century style. As a result, areas farthest to the South (near Park Boulevard), and furthest up the hill (toward Montclair) are mid-century in style. There has been very little construction in Piedmont since the 50s and 60s. The homes in this era tend to be a bit smaller (as was the trend post-war), and less walkable (due to distance as well as hillsides) than the homes in central Piedmont. I always say that the best value for the money in Piedmont is a mid-century house on a small lot near one of our many public parks, as they tend to be discounted compared to the historic and more walkable homes downtown.
The postwar era also saw some of the old downtown estates demolished, or subdivided, so every once in a while you'll see a mid-century home, or a mid-century enclave (e.g. Langdon Court, just above Highland Avenue off Blair) within the older parts of town. For those who like mid-century architecture, these can be a real find.
Because the town is so small, there is much much more that is the SAME about neighborhoods than is different. We all have super-fast emergency services (the ambulance was at my door in 30 seconds a few years ago when we thought we needed one and made the 911 call). We all see police cars regularly roaming the streets. We all read the Piedmont Post and Piedmonter papers. 85% (per the census) of us send our kids to (and support financially) Piedmont's excellent schools. Many of us stay in town long after the kids graduate (whether because of lifestyle or capital gains) so it's a great mix of young families and old timers.
Our three elementary schools all score very very close together on the statewide API scores--no one in Piedmont would argue that one of the schools is "better" than the others or more strongly supported by their parents (I can't even IMAGINE how that fight would go, particularly among the dads....). They are quite close to each other as well, and, for instance, summer day care (run by the Rec Department) operates alternating among the three elementary school sites--kids of all ages easily walk from each elementary school site to the town pool in the civic center area in the afternoons (by the way, kids who have passed their swim test and area at least 7 can go to the pool unsupervised by a parent--and they DO!)
On the negative side, we all worry whether our kids have too many resources, and will grow up with a good sense of balance (the PTAs, particularly in the high school, bring in speakers to explore these issues with kids and with parents). We worry there is too much sex, drugs and rock and roll among our teenagers; we worry about car accidents; we worry about the quality of our schools; we worry about the social divides we see around us; we worry about the state budget and funds for education; we worry about whether kids show enough respect for others, for each other, for parents and adults in their lives, and for the resources they have.
Some might feel they know everybody in town--and that's either great (in which case they should live in Central Piedmont, or just too much (in which case they might think about the outer reaches of town or, like me, just get used to seeing clients in my trashy dog-walking clothes). Others (I've heard this particularly from families in the southern reaches of town) might feel they know many fewer in town--and that's great because they really appreciate their privacy and think of their home as a sanctuary (and have no interest in hosting the 4th of July block party).
A note says that Piedmont Avenue is the "downtown" of Piedmont. If you live in Central Piedmont, you're likely grabbing milk at Mulberry Market, but shopping on Piedmont Avenue, the Berkeley Bowl, or Rockridge Safeway. If you live up on Calvert Court, or over on upper La Salle or Selborne, you're shopping in Montclair. If you live on the Scottish-named streets (Inverleith, Marlborough, Sandringham) you shop in Montclair, in Glenview, or maybe at Trader Joe's in Lakeshore. And if you live in Baja Piedmont, you are likely shopping on Piedmont Avenue or at the Safeway on Grand Avenue. Ditto for restaurant options--Berkeley, Piedmont AVenue, Uptown in Oakland, and College Avenue all have fabulous (i.e. even world class/Michelin star--Commis) options. If you're getting into your car anyway, each of these options is no more than about a 5 min drive from anywhere in Piedmont. In fact I'm heading from central Piedmont up to a bakery in Montclair to get a celebration cake for my college bound son right now!