El Cerrito Trail Trekkers present
Storybook Homes Hike, El Cerrito
Copyright 2012, Dave Weinstein and El Cerrito Trail Trekkers, to be used by walkers but not to be reproduced or copied digitally or published in any form whatsoever. This description is two years old; changes may have occurred along the route! Proceed with caution and at your own risk and please do not trespass.
Hike start: Hike starts at Poinsett Park, at Harris Avenue and Poinsett Avenue, at the southern end of this pretty little park, one of the city’s oldest.
Introduction: This is an easy stroll, ideal for an evening, or about 90 minutes. It’s a very cheering walk, one that shows El Cerrito at its best.
It takes us past some of the city’s loveliest Storybook homes. We see as well some nice mid-century modern houses, some of the best ranch-style homes in town, and walk on several of the city’s public paths. We will see beautiful gardens, stone walls showing a wide variety of styles and technique, and natural stone outcrops of blueschist and greywacke. We will see a waterfall.
On top of that, we will look at two stretches of city-owned paths that are currently not fully accessible. One is fully blocked by overgrowth; the other can be walked on, but is a bit tricky. Depending on our mood, we will or will not take it.
Mechanics and Useful Information: We will have the opportunity to use a bathroom at Tassajara park, about halfway through the hike, and once we return to our starting point at Poinsett Park.
This hike involves much crisscrossing of our route. It will even include a U-turn or two. Apologies in advance for those who prefer direct routes. We will ascend a few steps and the first half of the trail is uphill but nothing is very steep. Footing will be slightly tricky on one brief stretch of city-owned but unimproved path.
1. The Route: Commence by walking downhill, south, on Poinsett Avenue, away from Poinsett Park.
Pass several wonderful Storybook homes, built 1927 and thereabouts, according to one owner. These are tract style homes, but nice ones. Are they by MacGregor, famed for his Albany storybook tracts? Maybe, but other developers did this kind of work too.
What are Storybook (aka “fairytale” or “Hansel and Gretel” homes)? Homes mostly built from early 1920s to mid 1930s that do more than evoke a particular period in history; they evoke a fantasy version of that period, playing up the pictorial aspects like fortress-like battlements, steep cat-slide roofs, roofs that suggest they are made of thatch, tiny doorways, stone exteriors, etc.
Recall that some off the architects whose work best defined the so-called “Bay Tradition” in architecture produced incredible storybook homes: Bernard Maybeck, Julia Morgan, John Hudson Thomas. None of these are on today’s route.
Homes to admire: 5329 Poinsett, 5322 Poinsett (notice the dovecote and wonderful random pattern shingles in the gable over the door).
Note near the bottom of Rosalind an interesting, flat-roofed mid-century modern home, 5318 Rosalind.
2. Turn right on Carlson Boulevard, noting from the changing color of garbage bins that we are now in the city of Richmond.
3. In a block turn right, uphill, east on Rosalind Avenue, soon re-entering El Cerrito.
4. At the corner of Rosalind, Harris and Hillside avenues, note the low rock, probably blueschist, at the corner of Harris and Rosalind, the first and smallest of the rock outcrops seen on this walk. Head north on Hillside.
Hillside Avenue. Perhaps the city’s nicest collection of Storybook homes is found in the 5000 block.
— Hillside Avenue, 5427, English, nice art tile bathes the fireplace inside, and lovely interior.
— Hillside Avenue, 5421, rustic cottage faced with stone.
— Hillside Avenue, 5413, two-story quasi-Colonial with Monterey porch
5. In one block, turn left on Yuba Avenue, crossing Barrett Avenue. Stay on Yuba half a block – then make a U-turn, returning to Barrett.
It’s worth taking this short turn down Yuba because it takes us past three of El Cerrito’s best Storybook houses.
— Yuba, 2613. A charming Tudor from the ‘20s or ‘30s; 2620 has a garage with battlements.
6. Turn left onto Barrett. Barrett is worth a hike all its own for connoisseurs of Storybook homes and other pictorial styles, but we will leave it in one block. Note the Dutch Colonial house at Barrett and Yuba.
7. Hang a left onto Sonoma Avenue. Notice what I call a “rock house,” a house built on or among rocks, at 2612 Sonoma, a Spanish house with steps made of rock, and an unusual arch over garage. The house next door is also nice and Spanish. At the end of the, where it hits Charles, see 2627 Sonoma, an excellent architect-designed modern house. Harder to see, concealed by shrubbery and a fence, is an immense hillside filled with trees and rocks, one of the city’s nicest private forests.
8. Hang right on Charles, for one block. Charles has some of EC’s finest 1920s-‘30s houses, some as nice as those in wealthy Piedmont. Many fine ranch houses and “modern” ranch houses here as well.
— Charles Ave., 5700. Very striking house, Mediterranean, slightly splayed plan on corner site with odd rectangular central portion with incised tiles around entry and various decorative touches.
— Charles Avenue, 5807. Gabled cottage built in 1934 and given a striking rock façade and garden in recent years by an owner who has made the home a paradise for the neighborhood kids, complete with Snow White.
— Charles, 5810. Grand Piedmont-like Mediterranean house. Immense lot, large hidden garden. The Edward Downer house, banker (Mechanics bank) and civic leader.
9. Turn right onto Ellerhorst for one block, to Barrett.
Note 2639 Ellerhorst, a Spanish-style house with a wonderful stone fountain. Note the nice rock wall at Ellerhorst and Barrett.
Back on Barrett head one block uphill, west, to Tulare Avenue, turn left.Tulare and the streets around it have some of the city’s most beautiful 1950s and ’60 ranch-style homes. Notice how several could also be c onsidered “mid-century modern,” thank to their walls of windows and open-concrete screens.
— Tulare, 2628, standard post-war tract-like house but with a lovely story-bookish brick-faced wall facing the street, bricks wandering hither and yon.
— Tulare, 2600 and 2500 blocks, astride Barrett Avenue, contain some of the city’s nicest little storybook homes, not large or exciting but nice. Also some attractive ranches.
— Tulare, 2619, attractive ranch with glass-paneled breezeway between garage and house seeming to form an atrium.
11. Half a block up Tulare do not miss the Francisco to Tulare Path. We take this for two blocks uphill, crossing Mira Vista Drive and emerging onto Francisco. Turn right.
12. Francisco leads to Carquinez Avenue. Turn right on Carquinez, cross Barrett.
13. Enter Tassajara Park. Bathroom break. Head through Tassajara Park on the Tassajara Park Trail, uphill to Tassjara Avenue.
14. Turn right on Tassajara Avenue, for two blocks till it merges with Lagunitas Ave. Stay on Lagunitas.
15. At Arlington, turn right. Admire beautiful Storybook homes and the city’s second most prominent though now hidden geological feature, Murietta Rock.
Murietta Rock. Cutting Boulevard near Barrett Avenue. Did bandit Joaquin Murietta camp out here? Probably not. But this immense rock outcropping, privately owned but often climbed, used to be a landmark visible from San Francisco.
16. Head south on Arlington half a block to Cutting Boulevard, turn right.
17. Almost immediately turn right onto Jordan Avenue.
18. In half a block, turn right onto Carquinez Avenue. Proceed to the Lagunitas-Edwards Path, next to a beautiful Storybook House at 2367, and hang a left. This path is slightly tricky and overgrown, but passable – if we are all careful! This is regarded as a “lost” trail as it would need work to become fully useable. Notice that, from the street, it appears to be part off the home’s driveway but it is in fact a public path.
19. The path emerges on Mira Vista. We look at the next leg of the path, which is totally impassable, then turn right on Mira Vista.
20. In two blocks, hang a left on Barrett. In one block we turn left on Tulare, then immediately right on Poinsett.
21. In one block, we verge from Poinsett to Rosalind and walk along the Poinsett branch of Baxter Creek to Poinsett Park and our cars.
Note just above Poinsett Park, the creek is open as it flows past several houses in a channel. Notice the waterfall and rock outcrops.
Alongside the creek, notice a small mosaic bench. Who built it? Also, notice how overgrown the creek is. Stephen Pree, the city’s sustainable landscapes manager, plans to open this up to improve it as habitat.
At Poinsett Park, enjoy the stone walls, which were constructed during the Depression of the 1930s by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) a make-work program for the unemployed, including the highly skilled unemployed, that gave America many wonderful public works, including these works of masonry art.
Poinsett is one of the earliest official city parks, developed during the early 1930s along with Huber park, which also shows WPA involvement..
Thanks for coming along on this hike!
Dave Weinstein, hike leader, photographer, and author of this guide.
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