The Oakland Of Old

A LONG TIME AGO, in a village not far away, the horseman ruled the land. Barns dotted the hillside and Paints and Appaloosas grazed in pastures above the sparkling waters of the Bay.

This was the Oakland hills, circa 1938, when rodeo cowboys ran the ranches and the Mills College girls rode their steeds through the canyon and up the hill, past what’s now Merritt College, to Joaquin Miller Park.

“After the vets came home from World War Two, there was a tremendous upsurge in equestrian use in this area” says Amelia Marshall, a historian for the Metropolitan Horsemen’s Association. As many as 3,000 hills folks rode horses, and because of this, a grand plan was born for an equestrian center in the park. There would be paddocks and stables, an arena and racetrack. A horse trail would be built down the center of Skyline Boulevard, with equestrian access to all parts of the Oakland hills. It was a plan that was “cut off at the pass,” so to speak.

Sequoia Arena was built, and later, a clubhouse was moved to the site across the street. But a push for two highways was slowly changing the character of the hills. With I-580 and Highway 13, the parks began to be used in a more urbanized fashion, and at some point, the funding for the grand equestrian center dried up.

There was another mode of transportation coming into play, too. “In the 1970s, the mountain bike was invented, and many equestrians preferred to move to more rural areas so they wouldn’t have to share the trails with mountain bikers,” Marshall comments. Horses were skittish enough on the trails without this kind of encounter.

Off-leash dogs were becoming a problem as well, in some cases, causing horses to throw their riders. Decades later, and despite all this, the Metropolitan Horsemen’s Association continues to survive — even thrive in the hills today. It has three or four horse shows a year at Sequoia Arena, and the clubhouse, which was once Oakland Firehouse No. 28, hosts lively meetings. Even more important, the city is considering landmark status for the clubhouse and arena, and the wealth of old photos and Trailblazer magazines could someday be part of a splendid museum.

“Researching the land-marking application showed me the joy of going around and talking to all the old-timers,” says Marshall. Some, like horseman Earl Hansen (who’s in his 90s) are still active today, and are helping Marshall with a book on the subject.

The equestrian story. It’s a part of hills history that has framed how we live today — in a region with wide open spaces and room to roam — for horses and for humans.

Crime watch

The Shepherd Canyon Homeowner’s Association has joined with other hills neighborhood groups to lobby the city for their own detective. If you’ve been the victim of a burglary in the last few weeks, let association president Mike Petouhoff know, because he’s compiling data to support the case for increased patrols in the hills.

Figures show that in just seven weeks, almost 50 burglaries have been committed in the Oakland hills, most while the victims were home. One suspect has already been caught, but break-ins are an on-going problem. Petouhoff ‘s number is 510-531-5959 or you can send him an e-mail at

E-mail bag

Thanks to hills mom Gaby Miller for letting me know that her daughter Frances is being featured in the annual Stillwell student art exhibit at San Francisco State University. On through Dec. 15, Miller’s piece is one of 60 student art pieces selected for the show.

Tickle your senses

If it’s been awhile since you “stopped to smell the roses,” reader Anne Woodell has an offer for you. She needs help with Oakland’s Garden for the Blind at Lakeside Park (666 Bellevue Ave.) This is a permanent garden with Braille labels and raised beds, so folks can lean over and smell nature’s creations.

Like so many things, it’s fallen in disrepair because of city budget cuts. If you’d like to help spruce up the sensory garden, call 510-339-2818.


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