PIEDMONT -- Mark Feldkamp joins the "Party in the Park" on Sunday as park tour guide.
He has been the city's Parks and Project Manager in the Public Works Department for the past 18 years and is also the city's liaison to the Piedmont Beautification Foundation and the Parks Commission.
Feldkamp will lead group tours through the shady paths that wind around and above Bushy Dell Creek, which runs through Piedmont Park and eventually into Lake Merritt, taking in 11 historic plaques that the city and PBF installed in 2007 to mark Piedmont's centenary.
"The plaques tell the story of the park as you walk through it," Feldkamp said.
Feldkamp gave a sneak preview of the park tour on a recent sunny afternoon, stopping at each plaque to offer fascinating insights into the history of Piedmont and the park.
"This is my passion," said Feldkamp, as he admired the fragrant blossoming cherry trees and spring flowers. "This park is like my back garden."
He said that Public Works personnel plant around 10,000 bulbs every year, including tulips, daffodils and narcissus -- not only in parks but also in city medians and open spaces.
The tour begins at the imposing Exedra monument on the downtown entrance to the park, with its Grecian-style blue urn and three-tier fountain. The Exedra was built after World War I as a tribute to those who served and was restored in the 1980s with PBF and city funds. Exedra is a Greek word meaning "a seat out of doors," or gathering place.
"This is like the living room for the city," said Feldkamp, who likes to walk the park on his lunch break for exercise and to see what's been done -- and what still needs to be done. "In the '60s and '70s, the Exedra was in bad shape. The PBF played a huge part in restoring the monument, as well as the fountain, steps and railings. We tried to keep the flow of the old and the new, by using rock and organic materials."
Another plaque, behind the Community Hall, marks where Piedmont Art Gallery was built in 1907, and is now the site of public tennis courts.
"The gallery was torn down in 1918, and the paintings were given to the de Young Museum," said Feldkamp.
Feldkamp takes special pride in the restoration of the Japanese Tea House. Piedmont architect Grier Graff donated the plans for the expansive new Ipe Brazilian hardwood deck, and Feldkamp designed the surrounding garden. The wood is known for its density and durability.
"People just love this building; it's used a lot for weddings, it's often where the bride gets dressed," Feldkamp said.
A plaque that overlooks Witter Field tells the story of the Eucalyptus Amphitheatre, where the very first play performed was Shakespeare's "Love's Labor Lost" in 1908. The theater stood on the land now occupied by the playing field. Nearby is another plaque entitled "The Maze," with fascinating photos of the English-style hedge maze that grew there in the early 1900s. Another plaque marks the location of Sulphur Springs Grotto, which was built in 1869.
"People would gather at the springs to bathe or drink the medicinal water," said Feldkamp, adding that one of those visitors was Mark Twain.
Despite all the improvements to the park, and many other areas of the city, Feldkamp always has a lengthy wish list -- there are 10 items on his current list -- that he submits to PBF and the city for consideration.
"I'd like to build a large terrace at the back of the Community Hall so that a wedding party, for instance, could open the French doors and step outside," he said.
He'd also like to replace the paving in the plaza in front of the Community Hall, which is cracked, using Connecticut blue stone.
Feldkamp also encourages visitors to the "Party at the Park" event to stop by City Hall, where Piedmont's one remaining faux bois (false wood) bench is located. It was resculpted in 2001 with PBF funds and is a favorite spot to sit and eat lunch. Feldkamp said he is very fortunate to work with PBF.
"It's an honor to work with such outstanding people," Feldkamp said. "Donors have learned that they can trust their judgment, so there's a real buy-in from the community -- it's a unique partnership of private and public funding."