Before there was Baja Piedmont, there were the Bourgeois Bohemians in Boho Piedmont.
In 1867 Joseph Worcester came from Boston to settle in Piedmont, California to work as a tutor for Bowman’s children. [Source - Piedmont Historical Society] He was greatly influenced by writers such as John Ruskin (English critic of art), Ralph Waldo Emerson (poet, philosopher and essayist), James Russell Lowell (American Romantic poet, critic, editor, and diplomat) and William Wordsworth (poet). [North East Bay Independent and Gazette - Wed, Mar 12, 1980]. Reverend Worcester was not only the clergyman responsible for building the Swedenborgian Church at the corner of Lyon & Washington Streets in San Francisco, an icon of the Arts & Crafts Movement (1892–95); he was also an amateur architect and the man most responsible for the design of what may well be the first American bungalow (it was constructed as his own home atop a hillside in Piedmont in 1876). [berkeleyheritage.com, July 17, 2008]
In 1876 at his Piedmont house, located at 555 Scenic Avenue (address is still being verified, we think it was Scenic Avenue at the time, now Blair), the most stunning feature of the room was its unobstructed view through a large bay window towards San Francisco Bay. Because of his interest in art and architecture, Worcester became close friends with many cultural leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area, including artist William Keith who painted several versions of his bungalow in the Piedmont Hills. [Source]
Oakland Tribune - Sat, Feb. 24, 1883
In 1883 William Keith, the Oakland Tribune said one of the best pictures William was painting was of Mr. Wooster's (Worcester's) cottage in the Piedmont hills.
Like many of Piedmont's early settlers, J. Henry P. Atkins, along with his brother-in-law and partner William Kingston Vickery (at 780 Summit Avenue - the street in Piedmont was later renamed to Kingston after him), elected to commute to their elegant art gallery in San Francisco from their homes in "the country". Vickery founded the San Francisco art gallery Vickery, Atkins & Torrey in 1888 with his nephew Henry Atkins. Their gallery later featured many artists including those who were living in Boho Piedmont.
In 1891, a tonalist landscape painter named Arthur Atkins moved to Piedmont. Tonalism was an artistic style that emerged in the 1880s when American artists began to paint landscape forms with an overall tone of colored atmosphere or mist. After a couple of successful shows and good sales, the European immigrant returned home, but before he returned, he wrote letters to friends suggesting how much he missed California:
But after all, it is Piedmont I want to paint: every now and then the desire to see it, "sweeps gustily thro' my soul," but the whole world is beautiful, and as some one has said, "It is by the grace of God that we are artists."
It is as though the parts I love best in California, Piedmont and Marin, had been lived in and tended for many generations, by a race loving the soil and life and caring about all; and I think of it now, the country around Genoa and Padua and Verona, as of the colour of precious stones and of fruit ripened under a full sun.
[Arthur Atkins : Extracts from the Letters: With Notes on Painting and Landscape ; Written During the Period of His Work as a Painter in the Last Two Years of His Life, 1896-1898 page 5]
The next creative resident of importance was George Sterling, nephew to Frank C. Havens, moved from New York to California in 1890 to work as secretary for his uncle's Oakland-based Realty Syndicate in 1895 with F. M. ("Borax") Smith.
Sterling’s first year in Oakland was a rather industrious one; however, all of that changed with the arrival of his boyhood friend, Roosevelt Johnson, in 1891. As a direct result of Johnson’s presence in Oakland, during the next two years, Sterling would meet two men who would have a profound influence over the course of his life. The first was Joaquin Miller; the other was Ambrose Bierce, both significant representatives of gold rush California. Sterling’s relationship with Miller was short-lived but potent. Miller had an estate known as “the Heights” in the Oakland hills, where those attracted to his fame and persona could meet the legend in the flesh. Johnson and Sterling made regular pilgrimages to Miller’s estate, the summer and fall of that first year, and it was there that Sterling learned from Miller the first and primary thread of the triple-threaded Western archetype, that of identification. As Benediktsson details, “Miller’s flamboyant rejection of middle-class values gave Sterling a lasting impression of how a poet should act. Sterling was all his life preoccupied with being a poet, and there is no doubt that his posturing in later years can be traced to this grand poseur”.
One year later, Sterling was invited by Albert Bierce to his camp northeast of Oakland. It was here that Sterling met Albert’s brother, Ambrose. This would grow to be one of the most important relationships in Sterling’s life. For the next four or five years, Sterling was able to maintain a balance between his social life and his professional 36 life, spending most evenings and weekends with fellow artists and bohemians, while during the week he followed in his uncle’s footsteps. This division became much more difficult to maintain when he married his personal secretary, Caroline “Carrie” Rand, on February 7, 1886. That being said, Sterling remained successful enough that he and his wife were able to reside in a cottage they rented in Piedmont; additionally, within the year after his marriage, Sterling decided to become a poet. Once the decision was made, Sterling began sending manuscripts to his friend and famous poet/writer Ambrose Bierce, who would become Sterling’s biggest promoter and most influential critic.
Sometime between the year or so before he was married and 1901, Sterling ascended as one of the ringleaders of a group of artists and writers who would often meet at his home in Piedmont. As Sterling rose to prominence within the Piedmont artists’ colony, his relationship with his wife began to suffer. Benediktsson indicates that, “as [Sterling] passed thirty and remained only Havens’ personal secretary, it became increasingly evident to his family that he would not become a captain of commerce”. At the same time, Benediktsson later points out that, “the true crisis in [Sterling’s] domestic life did not begin until he became bosom friends with another young writer, one who was not content merely to pose as a Bohemian; he was Jack London, and Sterling met him in the Spring of 1901”. London’s primary influence upon Sterling was to expand upon the lessons of Miller and Bierce. While Sterling’s first mentors taught him how to be a poet in the West, it was London who gave Sterling permission to be himself and listen to his own impulses. [Source]
Willis Jefferson Polk was an American architect best known for his work in San Francisco and later Piedmont, however, to his neighbors he was best known for his "unconventional fun."
"I lived over in Piedmont, and my place was the rendezvous for a lot of painters, poets and others who had a liking for what was then considered rather unconventional fun. The result was that my quiet neighbors were kept awake many a night by the noise of music and laughter, and they were a good deal shocked by what they thought our wicked way of life."
Oakland Tribune - Sat. - Nov. 16, 1912
In 1895, the Piedmont silk worm culture station, which had been taken over by the Ladies Silk Culture Society, closed down due to lack fo profits. During that same year, Herman "Jim" Whitaker, his wife and six children arrived in California. He was a penny-less would be writer who was supporting his family with odd jobs. In 1902, they moved into the "Silk Culture House" at the end of Mountain Avenue (716 Scenic Avenue). The picturesque old house had an impressive sign across its front, "Silk Culture Experimental Station", popularly called "the bug house," was on a narrow ridge that dropped down into Hayes Canyon with its trees, heavy shrubbery and babbling creek. [Source]
San Francisco Chronicle - Sat - Feb. 13, 1897
And in 1897, when Oakland passed a law forbidding public meetings on public streets, London challenged the law by getting himself arrested for climbing on that soap box and speaking. Oakland authorities were surprised that instead of paying the fine or consenting to spend a few days in jail, London demanded a jury trial. Acting as his own lawyer, London argued that the law violated the constitution’s guarantees of the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and he won. [Source]
Jim Whitaker was already a member of the Socialist Party in Oakland when the young Jack London, 20 years old, stopped to listen to a harangue, as the brilliant Englishman Strawn-Hamilton called it, in the city park. Jack met Jim there and they quickly became friends. Strawn-Hamilton stood on the soap box quickly, got a good crowd gathered about him, and got a good start before the paddy wagon arrived on the scene and took him off. Whitaker waited until the wagon was out of sight, then took to the soap box. The paddy wagon returned and carted him off. But the young Jack got a rousing finish before he was hustled off and lodged in the city jail. The City of Oakland has planted an oak tree on the spot to commemorate this event in tribute to Jack London. [Source] According to Frank Norris, until a quarrel in 1902, London and Whitaker were close friends.
The meeting of Jack London and George Sterling can be attributed to an unpaid grocery bill. On a sunny Sunday in 1901*, at picnic in the Piedmont Hills, George Sterling's wife, Carrie, mentioned that the newspaper published a letter written by Jack London to a grocer about his unpaid bread bill. The letter peaked Sterling's interest and he asked author and reporter, Joseph Noel, who was also at the picnic if he would introduce them. When Norris told London that Sterling wanted to me him, the then Socialist who hated Capitalists such as Sterling's uncle, Frank C. Havens refused. London had previously worked for Havens shoveling coal for his street car company and saw the money-making that governed the Havens family. *[Noel stated that their meeting was in 1901, but the letter for the grocery bill according to a London letter in Charmian's book was written in 1902]
The next attempt to get Jack London and George Sterling to finally meet was not successful, either. Norris brought them together for a dinner, when the dinner finished London took the two to the Barbary Coast in San Francisco only to leave abruptly soon after. Sterling wrote London while he was living at 56 Bayo Vista in Oakland. A second dinner ensued and London led Puritan Sterling to a burlesque house afterwards. The two could not have been more opposite in every way, yet their friendship grew closer and soon London was calling Sterling "The Greek" and the poet was calling London "The Wolf". [Source: Footloose In Arcadia by Joseph Noel] In the spring of 1902, Jack London threw his first of many Sunday Picnics in his new home in Piedmont after unsuccessfully running for mayor of Oakland on the Socialist ballot. George Sterling arranged through the Realty Syndicate for him to stay at the Worcester heights Bungalow just up the hill from Sterling's cottage. [Source: Piedmont Historical Society]
The San Francisco Examiner - Thu - May 29, 1902
The Book of Jack London Paperback – January 1, 1921
by Charmian London
In the aftermath of the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, Whitaker opened up his large house in Piedmont to accommodate as many of his displaced friends as possible. One of these guests was Mexican/American artist Xavier Timoteo Martinez ("Marty"). Xavier soon fell in love with Whitaker's sixteen year old daughter, whom he had met earlier, and proposed the following year. Elsie Whitaker accepted despite the fact that Xavier was twice her age and only two years younger than her father and that she'd already agreed to at least four other wedding proposals. Elsie, who George Sterling once called, "the Blessed Damozel, was already considered a "free-spirited artist". Xavier and Elsie married in the fall of 1907 and stayed together until his death in 1943. [Source] Herman Whitaker took "Marty" to his home at 760 scenic avenue while his own studio at 324 Scenic Avenue was being built in exchange for a portrait by Martinez for Wickham Havens. [Source]
The Press Democrat - Sun - Apr. 16, 1972
Oakland Tribune - Sun - Jul. 13, 1924
For the next few years these artists of varying mediums balanced personal and professional struggles as bourgeois bohemians (bobos) living in Piedmont, California.