The 9th Avenue palms


This row of palms has a history, but I don’t know it yet. The Oakland Heritage Alliance has a guided walk through this area, which was part of the Francis “Borax” Smith estate. Smith made his fortune developing the borax industry in the playas of Nevada and the Mojave, and nothing spoke success in turn-of-the-century California like an allee of palms. (Click it for an 800×500 version)

The ground here is a large, dissected alluvial fan that spans much of central Oakland. Pill Hill marks its west end, the rise of Evergreen Cemetery the east end. Foothill Boulevard runs along its base. The soil is a firm silt of excellent quality for building or growing. Many of the stream valleys that dissect it are now major streets: Park Boulevard, 14th and 23d Avenues, Fruitvale Avenue, High Street, Seminary Avenue.

These palms are widely visible around Oakland, if you know where to look. Yesterday I spotted them from the Kaiser Hospital parking structure; they’re also easily seen from upper Mountain View Cemetery and the Chetwood Street bridge over I-580. Other sighting reports are welcome.

6 Responses to “The 9th Avenue palms”

  1. Naomi Schiff Says:

    Oakland Heritage Alliance often sponsors a summer walking tour around that part of town which includes the palms and various other structures and remnants of Smith’s activities. The amazing Phil Bellman knows a lot about this history, and also has led some great tours of Smith-connected sites in Nevada at the borax mines. Smith was the 20-mule-team Borax entrepreneur, and also a progenitor of the Key System transit lines.

  2. Andrew Says:

    Smith also had a property on Long Island. His log fishing lodge out on Taylor’s Island is preserved there today; see

  3. Darby Says:

    The row of Palms referred to in this blog marked a roadway into the Borax Smith estate called Arbor Villa.

  4. David Says:

    You can see them from the far side of Lake Merritt, near the children’s science center or whatever it is. You have to know where to look, and you can only see the tops of the palms, but if you hunt, you can find them.

    I live a couple blocks away from that row of palms, so I can see them from my windows. I always wondered how they ended up there. Great blog, by the way!

  5. Andrew Says:

    They’re also visible from the BART train as you ride west from the Rockridge station.

  6. Felix Says:

    I’ve always loved those palms and always wondered about their origin. I hope you’ll post about them again if you turn up an answer.

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