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What to do about The Lorax Tree? La Jolla Parks & Beaches examines possibilities for former landmark

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The Lorax Tree was a Scripps Park landmark for at least 80 years, until it fell in 2019.
((Courtesy of the City of San Diego) )

On June 13, La Jolla’s so-called Lorax Tree in Scripps Park — long-believed to have inspired children’s book author Dr. Seuss to write “The Lorax” — toppled, and was soon removed by the City. And though the tree may be gone, the La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory group (LJP&B) wants to make sure it is not forgotten.

At its July 22 meeting at the Rec Center, LJP&B discussed what to do with the wood from the fallen Monterey Cypress tree and the space where it once stood; and formed a working group to provide monthly updates to the board.

Trustee Bob Evans, who has been heading the effort, explained: “There are a couple of different dialogues going on” between the City, the board and engaged residents. “The City has taken the trunk and has it in storage; and the City is looking at how to re-purpose that, whether it is as a memorial bench or some sort of kids play area. The City also has preliminary plans to replace it with either one or a few trees. I also asked if they needed help with funding, and they told me funding would not be a problem. There isn’t a lot of meat to any of these plans, but we see momentum.”

Replacement tree?

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When it comes to replacing the tree itself, the board has expressed interest in planting another Monterey Cypress. Evans and fellow trustee Melinda Merryweather met with local landscape architects for a dendrology lesson.

“Monterey Cypress, while native to Northern California, would only work in La Jolla as a Southern California location,” Evans said. “La Jolla is on the coast and we have a marine layer in the morning, which keeps the Monterey Cypress healthy. But the nature of these trees is that they are tender little trees and susceptible to disease, but if they grow in their own dirt (rather than started in a pot and moved), they have a self-preserving ability, which allows them to grow these crazy shapes, like our Lorax Tree did.”

Merryweather added: “It would be very inexpensive to plant some seeds with some protective fencing around it, and within four years, we could have something that looks like a tree.”

However, no replanting would be considered until after summer, when park crowds decrease. Further, when the tree toppled, it broke a portion of the City’s irrigation system, causing the grass to turn brown. The irrigation has since been repaired, and the City will begin re-watering that area of the park to restore the grass.

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Celebrating Seuss

As for what to do with the wood itself, LJP&B chair Ann Dynes sent an e-mail to engaged community members and their responses came flooding in.

“In the past, staff has coordinated and re-purposed wood with Palomar College’s wood working program. Pieces have been milled and used for furniture, benches, tables etc.,” said Michael Tully, San Diego Parks & Recreation Department acting deputy director.

However, former La Jollan Anthony Ciani suggested: “The City of Pacific Grove <FZ,1,0,21>decided to leave the base twin trunks from a fallen Monterey Cypress to be carved into breaching Humpback Whales. In La Jolla, the fallen tree could be made into a safe children’s climbing playground or carved into a prone Grey Whale, or a reclining Dr. Seuss character.”

La Jolla resident Glen Rasmussen added: “It would be a fantastic legacy, to carve it into a Lorax bench. I am sure funds could be easily raised, and there are some good local woodcarvers.”

Erik Holtsmark recommended: “Create a small Seuss-land with a Lorax tree in the middle, modeled on the one as depicted in the books … children can interact with their own-sized book characters.”

Legends Gallery (home to a Dr. Seuss art collection) manager Roree Mayhew is also reportedly “very enthusiastic about this conversation,” and may be able to help secure permissions to create/commission a Lorax sculpture out of the existing wood or discussing other options such as using the stump for a base for an existing sculpture.

At the LJP&B July meeting, chair Dynes said: “We’ve also heard it would be nice to do some more outdoor art, so if there is an opportunity there, we might want to look into that.”

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However, LJP&B trustee John Shannon noted the wood is porous and not that durable, so constructing something from the trunk should be taken with caution.

Dynes noted: “It seems as though the City is out in front of this pretty well, and while we assume they are going to come to us with a plan, we want to make sure they do that.”

Also at LJP&B

City staff awards: The board is considering a system to honor City employees who go above and beyond the course of their duties in La Jolla. “We have a new maintenance supervisor for Whale View Point, she has weeded the area and roped it off,” Dynes said. “She has done quite a bit of work already and is reaching out to City staff about getting other trees trimmed. This is a City employee! She cares about her work and it shows.”

Trustee Judy Adams Halter, who is spearheading the Scripps Park restroom (aka comfort station) facility, added that another City employee has been dedicated to the care of Scripps Park, and she should also be honored.

Going forward, the board will create a certificate or plaque for these employees and honor them publicly at a LJP&B meeting.

Challenged Athletes event: LJP&B voted to approve the use of Scripps Park for the 26th annual Challenged Athletes Foundation triathlon challenge, Oct. 20 at La Jolla Cove.

“We are born and raised here in La Jolla, and have had our event here for 25 years,” said Challenged Athletes rep Katie Hubert. “We raise funds for physically disabled people to get back into sports. The event includes a one-mile swim, 10-mile run and 44-mile bike ride.”

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Although Hubert promised to take up “pretty much” the same amount of park space as in past years, organizers have not factored in space that would be lost with the upcoming Scripps Park Pavilion project, which is scheduled to break ground any day now and last for 440 working days.

“Everything is pretty much the same as last year, the route, the amount of space, amount of people; but now that I am hearing about the construction, we are going to have to look into that,” she said. “We wouldn’t take additional space, but might move parts of the event to accommodate construction.”

No Marine Street Mural: Trustee Patrick Ahern said plans for a mural at Marine Street Beach were temporarily on hold because though it is considered a placemaking project, which are not allowed in Industrial Zones and the Coastal Overlay Zone.

According to the City of San Diego’s website: “Placemaking allows residents to re-imagine and creatively reinvent unused or underutilized spaces in their neighborhoods to cultivate a sense of community. The distinctive character and heart of San Diego’s neighborhoods emerge through citizen-driven placemaking projects that, for example, create gathering places, showcase public art, illuminate landscape, beautify forgotten parcels or illustrate the area’s cultural vibe.”

Ahern said: “For now, that mural is not legal, but we have the City looking into it and they may change their mind.” The mural was proposed to deter vandalism and revive the otherwise blank geometric wall.

2019 meetings: Though LJP&B has historically not met in August, due to the volume of items the board has been addressing, members voted to meet next month. But, as in years past, the board will combine its November and December meetings to accommodate the holidays.

— La Jolla Parks & Beaches next meets 4 p.m. Monday, Aug. 26 at the Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. lajollaparksbeaches.org


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