May 1, 1907, the private Piedmont Art Gallery opened. It became the East Bay’s first serious commercial venue for the display and sale of art. This undertaking was largely financed by Frank C. Havens who asked Julia Morgan to design an impressive “Spanish-style” building with ten well-lighted galleries for the display up to three hundred and seventy five paintings.
The complex was surrounded by a sculpture garden in Piedmont Springs Park. The Gallery’s “appointed curator” was the artist Richard L. Partington. Despite the initial ridicule of its modern statuary, the venue became so popular that Partington insisted on charging an “admission fee” of ten cents. Reputedly, it was the most beautiful complex of its type in the West. [Source]
Oakland Tribune - Thu - May 2, 1907
The San Francisco Call - Fri - May 3, 1907
Oakland Tribune - Thu - May 30, 1912
The Russian Paintings
Havens also had a fine collection of paintings purchased in Europe and the Far East and displayed in his private gallery in Piedmont Park, near Oakland. To run the gallery Havens hired a young San Francisco painter named Richard Partington, a Bohemian friend of Havens' nephew George Sterling, a poet, and of Oakland's leading enfant terrible, the socialist writer Jack London. Havens thus moved between the world of money and the world of art with ease, frequenting the fashionable Bohemian Club of San Francisco and hiring a train each summer to take his family and friends east to his original home at Sag Harbor, Long Island. On one of these trips, probably in 1909, Frank Havens first heard about the Russian collection from a fellow member of a riding club, Baron Schlippenbach, the Russian consul in Chicago.
Colonel Kowalsky accused Frank C Havens neglected to pay $20,000 of custom duties for 450 pieces of art from Europe with a value of over $100,000. Kowalsky alleged Havens tried to deceive and defraud him of all profits and ownership oif the paintings.
"Marty" Martinez's wife, Elise Whitaker Martinez:
There was a large collection of Russian paintings in the Custom House, held for custom duties. After the allotted waiting time and no duties forthcoming, the collection was sold at auction. Havens picked it up for a song and built a gallery to house it on his property. And Carrie Sterling (George Sterling's wife) took care of it. It was simply adorable. There was a beautiful gilded Buddha on a bamboo stand and just beyond that were the doors, or rather, beautiful movable Japanese screens. [Source]
Oakland Tribune -
Mon - Feb. 12, 1912
The Gallery Closing
The Piedmont Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden was the only complex specifically designed as a museum by Julia Morgan. It was leveled in 1918 “because of the indifference of the townspeople” to their cultural heritage. One of the many loud protests from Piedmont’s neighbors was penned by the art critic Laura Bride Powers in The Oakland Tribune:
The Piedmont Art Gallery – reluctantly I record it – will soon pass into the history of things that were. Development of that part of Piedmont Park upon which the gallery stands has made necessary the esthetic sacrifice. And the spot that many noble works have consecrated will soon be denuded of roof, floor and walls, and be given over to the trampings of men and horses – making way for homes. Always homes, and more homes.
And thus will pass a potent influence in the art of the West – likewise, pardon the digression – one of the best commercial factors on this side of the bay, having been one of the objective points of tourists for many years. It advertised Oakland, it designated Piedmont. And it clung to the memory of the wanderers. . . .
Where the pictures will go is problematical. It is to be hoped that some of the best things would be saved for this side of the bay – that a nucleus could be made for the museum that is to come. . . . To permit the Russian collection – most of it – to go from Oakland, or worse, from California, is a tragedy.
The Havens collection represents retrospective and contemporary art from France, Russia, Holland, Germany, Spain, and much from America, including some excellent examples of California art.
Oakland Tribune - Sun - Dec. 24, 1916
The San Francisco Examiner - Mon - Apr. 21, 1924
Oakland Tribune - Sun - Apr. 23, 1916
Frank C. Havens
Frank C. Haven's Piedmont Art Gallery brought people together to appreciate art from around the world. In addition to the paintings on the wall, Havens also painted the landscape of the Bay Area hills. "Havens was an enthusiast for planting eucalyptus trees in the Bay Area. Between 1910 and 1914, his Mahogany Eucalyptus and Land Company had planted nearly three million Tasmanian blue gum eucalyptus and Monterey pine seedlings on 3,000 acres in the East Bay. The scheme was supposed to make Havens a fortune, but although eucalyptus grew quickly it made poor lumber. Havens soon shutdown the sawmills and nurseries, but the eucalyptus and pine groves remain." [Source]
You know, he made a big fortune in Piedmont real estate, as well as other ventures. I remember seeing the check he had for a million dollars - the check that he had made out for, I think it was the Dingle properties, for the Water Company he bought.
For a while he was Borax Smith's partner, you know. But Havens was too imaginative and too reckless to suit Smith, so they parted company. He put in the Key Route system. Later, he became a speculator on a large scale. He was very lucky until he took the fortune he had made in California and went to New York. Wall Street stripped him down to his last dollar. There was only a little land in his wife's name left for the family.
He returned to California to recover or remake another fortune. But the confidence in his genius was lost and he could find no one to back his really brilliant schemes. Soon afterwards he died.
Frank C Havens died February 9, 1918 at his home in Piedmont. He was a lover of books, poetry, and art. He was the author of a book called, "The Possibility of Living Two Hundred Years." [History of Alameda County, p533]
His ashes are interred at the Chapel of the Chimes adjacent to the Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland. Haven's second wife, Lila Rand Havens, lost the Havens property in foreclosure during the Great Depression of the 1930s. [source and Oakland Tribune - Sun - Dec 3, 1967, Page 214]
Oakland Tribune - Thu - Jun. 8, 1922
For a short while the gallery was turned into classrooms as the first students at Piedmont High School waited for their school to be completed in 1921. Eventually, the old gallery was torn down and replaced by the current tennis courts.
Erected by: Piedmont Beautification Foundation.
Location. 37° 49.406′ N, 122° 13.842′ W. Marker is in Piedmont, California, in Alameda County. Marker is on Highland Avenue. This marker is in Piedmont Park near the tennis courts. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 711 Highland Avenue, Oakland CA 94611, United States of America. Touch for directions.