The view of Mount Davidson in San Francisco has been forever altered, now that its tall eucalyptus tree capping the summit is gone. Strong winds toppled the tree over on Sunday night.
I myself had no idea until I took a trip out there Monday morning on a tip that wild turkeys were seen in and about the area. I set off to the top of the mountain with camera in hand, noticing some animal trails and coyote scat and kept a attentive ear to any gobble calls. Reaching the summit, I came across a confusing scene – branches and limbs were all over the place. Apparently, 30-mile-an-hour winds overnight had knocked down the iconic big tree at the very top. No picture of the peak of Mt. Davidson is complete with out this landmark tree, and it fell over right onto a bench blocking the main viewing area that overlooks downtown.
Back home, I reached out to a community friend — Jacquie Proctor from San Francisco Forest Alliance — who helped me understand our local tree.
The amount of history tied to this very tree is astounding. After the Gold Rush, it was planted by California Governor Leland Standford. It was a non-native eucalyptus, which served as a boundary marker between Standford’s land and Adolph Sutro who owned the other half of Mount Davidson.
In the last few decades, besides being the jewel in the eye of many a many a painter and photographer, it became the focus of a community battle which ultimately killed the tree, long before it toppled over. Native plant advocates saw the tree as an example of how the city needed to change toward native plant varieties, while tree supporters saw it, and other eucalyptus as having become an important part of the city’s landscape. As the story goes, one particularly bold activist “girdled” the base of the tree, causing it to slowly die.
Even as a dead tree, this tree continued to have its admirers. Photographers such as myself loved the bare limbs, shaped by the wind and a key element of our composition as we aimed our cameras at downtown San Francisco. The bench it fell on was made and put there by the local Boy Scouts and Proctor remembers bringing a swing to attach for her children to enjoy.
I was not surprised to see an Instagram following for this very tree at #thatsftree.
David Cruz is a San Francisco-based photographer and contributor to Bay Nature.