Saved from bulldozers, 400-year-old oak near Santa Clarita up for landmark status

California

When you think of historical landmarks in Los Angeles County, your mind goes to the Hollywood Sign, the Gamble House, Tail O’ The Pup, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Angels Flight Railway, the Queen Mary and Watts Towers, just to name a few.

Of course, there are hundreds more. In fact, the Los Angeles Conservancy lists 811 historic places in L.A. County, but it’s rare for a tree to be on that list.

Enter Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger. She has proposed a motion to designate a 400-year-old tree near Santa Clarita as a Los Angeles County Historic Landmark. It’s also the largest tree in the country to survive being moved, a feat that could enhance its landmark status.

  • FILE – John Quigley, who spent months sitting in the...

    FILE – John Quigley, who spent months sitting in the “Old Glory” oak tree in Santa Clarita in 2002 to early 2003, speaks to the 200 people on hand in 2003 at a rally at O’Neill Regional Park against development and removal of 500 oak trees near Live Oak Canyon Road. Photo by Mark Rightmire, SCNG

  • FILE – Activist Travis Jochimsen climbs the 400-year-old oak nicknamed...

    FILE – Activist Travis Jochimsen climbs the 400-year-old oak nicknamed ‘Old Glory,’ in Santa Clarita, Calif., Monday, Dec. 2, 2002. The protest around the tree took on an added sense of urgency Monday when rumors swept through this suburb north of Los Angeles that a developer was about to carry out a plan to relocate the tree. (AP Photo/Ann Johansson)

  • FILE – Environmentalist and tree-sitter John Quigley, center, in blue,...

    FILE – Environmentalist and tree-sitter John Quigley, center, in blue, and several people visit the 400-year-old oak tree, “Old Glory,” on Monday, March 21, 2005, in Santa Clarita. Quigley spent 71 days in its branches during a protest when the tree was at its former site. The tree was moved by developers in January 2004. (AP Photo/Los Angeles Daily News, David Crane)

On Tuesday, July 11, the Board of Supervisors will decide whether to start the process of designating landmark status for the tree, an oak with the scientific name  Quercus lobata, or in common terms the species called Valley Oak.

The tree, nicknamed “Old Glory” by two young boys from Stevenson Ranch, already deserves a survivor medal for twice escaping death.

First, in 2003, environmentalists held a climb-in to save the tree from bulldozers that would have taken it down for a road and part of the Newhall Ranch development. John Quigley climbed the 70-foot oak and lived in the tree for 71 days in 2002 and 2003 before the developer and the county agreed to uproot Old Glory and move it to Pico Canyon Park in Stevenson’s Ranch.

Second, more than just being spared, the tree survived a move, a rarity for an old tree that you might say was set in its ways. Twenty years later, the tree is thriving in its new location and environmentalists and community members celebrated their victory in March, marking the 20-year anniversary of the successful campaign.

Barger wants to keep this four-century-old oak growing by protecting it. “This oak symbolizes strength and perseverance. I want to make sure we take all the actions possible to preserve community assets like Old Glory,” she said in a statement.

The supervisor’s motion before the board said it represents a movement in L.A. County to preserve natural open space, including street tree canopies that provide shade during hotter summers that bring triple-digit temperatures due to the effects of global climate change.

“I’m introducing this motion to ensure this beloved oak tree remains protected in perpetuity,” she said on Friday, July 7, in an emailed response.

“Old Glory is not only a locally known community treasure, it is also in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest tree successfully moved on our planet,” she noted.

The L.A. Conservancy’s list of 811 historic places includes plenty of kitschy bars, iconic restaurants and old buildings as well as homes designed by renowned architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Neutra. There are some parks on the list but few stand-alone trees.

The Encino Oak Tree, also known as The Lang Oak, was a 1,000-year-old Quercus agrifolia more commonly known as the California live oak. It was designated by the city of L.A. as a Los Angeles Historic-Culture Monument and was felled in 1998 by an El Niño storm.

Another famous L.A. tree is the Wisdom Tree in Griffith Park, located on Burbank Peak not far from the Hollywood Sign, according to Modern Hiker. Like Old Glory, the Wisdom Tree is a testament to endurance. It withstood a conflagration in 2007 that torched nearby vegetation, leaving the lone pine standing alone like a sentinel guarding the city.

Barger will need cooperation from the community, and from the county’s director of the Office of Regional Planning, to move the application to fruition. “This motion will help ensure it stays where it is and thrives,” Barger wrote.

If the motion is approved, the application would be reviewed by the L.A. County Landmark and Records Commission.

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