Piedmont Beautification Foundation’s work involves more than meets eye
By Lou Fancher
Beauty is more than concrete- or flower petal-deep, to co-opt a well-known phrase. That’s the takeaway message after learning about the work of the Piedmont Beautification Foundation and a conversation with the organization’s president, Gayle Lambert.
Lambert moved to Piedmont in 1990 and after becoming a member of the Piedmont Garden Club 14 years ago found herself in 2017 involved with the nonprofit PBF during a fundraising campaign for the Linda Beach Playfield. Similar in many ways to the foundation’s other projects, the renovations and improvements to the tot lot are meant to increase the play area’s accessibility, safety, convenience (with added features such as restrooms) and aesthetics emphasizing native plants and the surrounding topography.
“It’s important for people to know that beautification has many layers: safety, enhanced revenue opportunities, green infrastructure features, native plantings, community bonding and parks and green spaces that serve the whole city. The foundation, working in tandem with the city, not only creates beautiful settings, it meets these other needs,” says Lambert.
PBF was founded in 1964, when members of the garden club recognized the city’s public spaces were at risk of falling into disrepair. A joint, public-private partnership between the city of Piedmont and the garden club resulted in the creation of PBF’s eight-member board of trustees (five garden club-selected appointees and three appointed by the city). A panel of community advisors was added, and thus was launched the Piedmont Beautification Foundation.
Nearly $4 million raised by the PBF has led to the completion of about two dozen improvement projects and the establishment of two endowment funds. A general endowment fund begun in 1991 offers a permanent source of funding for improvements and maintenance of enhanced spaces. A gift made in 2017 established the Sports Facilities Maintenance Endowment Fund.
“The sports facilities fund was put into place by the family of Nancy Witter Bates in her honor,” says Lambert. “Recently, her two sons, after their sister, Katy Bates Kreitler, passed away, donated $20,000 in the form of a matching fund. When the match is met, it will hopefully generate enough income through grants to the city to help maintain six sports facilities on an ongoing basis.”
PBF’s fundraising is applied to projects that have already been approved by the city, an important detail Lambert says is not always understood.
“We don’t determine what projects happen, we just decide which projects we want to support,” she says.
Among the completed projects are establishing Fenway Park, featuring plantings along the Cemetery Wall on a nearly 1-mile stretch of Moraga Avenue; and the creation and landscaping of the Linda Kingston Triangle at a five-way intersection where three streets converge that previously offered limited vehicle-pedestrian visibility. For the latter project, neighbors raised close to $4,600, PBF contributed $31,205 and the Piedmont Garden Club donated another $2,000. The total project cost about $284,000. Piedmont’s iconic Blue Vase in Exedra Plaza has received attention from the foundation more than once: structural and decorative repair in 1972 and, over the next several decades, the addition of gates, lighting, plants, a fountain, tiles and landscaping.
During the pandemic, Lambert says her focus remained on “results-driven and project-oriented goals.” Her day job involves environmental health and safety with Right Away Redy Mix (now owned by Vulcan Materials). She credits that and one of her now two adult daughters with shaping her interest in community projects.
“With community service projects for school, my daughter always wanted to do volunteer things where you could see the people and how it impacted them. Tangible results and safety are what I’m interested in.”
The foundation recently completed fundraising for the Highland-Guilford project.
“I was looking for a project that could be accomplished in a short time frame, was outdoors-oriented, had a safety feature and would serve all ages. Everybody was outside walking their dogs and being in parks. That was the impetus.”
The public space included old, downward-sloping steps that became mossy and slippery in the winter, and there was no handrail.
“We had interest in the project from the community and the city officials with whom I met said it could be finished in a short period of time. The stairs will be ADA (American with Disabilities Act)-compliant soon, now that the project was approved by the City Council on Sept. 7.”
In addition to the stair improvements, the project will add more benches, native plants, better lighting and semi-permeable pavers that allow some of the water to percolate into the ground instead of passing into drainage pipes.
“It makes this area open to more of the community; not just elderly people, but people with disabilities and small children. And the Tea House is a source of revenue for the city so this will make one entrance safer and generate more foot traffic and revenue.”
The foundation is funding more than a third of the $154,000 project — “Which saves taxpayers over $50,000,” she says — and the PFB continues to collect funds to reimburse the city for commemorative benches and trees.
As the city emerges from the pandemic, three small, shovel-ready projects already in the city’s pipeline are up for PBF’s consideration and a vote on Sept. 14. A second focus for the rest of this year and for 2022 will be raising matching funds for the sports facilities endowment.