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Informal survey: Should the Elks monkey puzzle tree stay or go

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on Sep. 24, 2010 at 8:37 am with 19 Comments »
September 27, 2010 9:28 am

A 2005 photo of the Elks and the tree (Russ Carmack)

Let me be clear: no one is proposing that the 80-year-old (or thereabouts) monkey puzzle tree that stands at the top of the Spanish Stairs should be removed.

But as the old Elks Lodge begins its transformation into a McMenamins beer and entertainment mecca and the stairs are refurbished, there is an emerging discussion about that tree. The native of Chile, Araucaria araucana was a popular ornamental in Tacoma and Seattle in the 20s and 30s.

At a meeting with the Landmarks Commission Wednesday, historic preservation consultant Michael Sullivan said, “I don’t think we have a feeling one way or another.”

And Mike McMenamin added: “No one has a strong thing going one way or another.”

But the tree obscures the dominant facade of the building, even rubbing against it on the upper floors. And it shades, even overwhelms, the stairs. I’d kind of like to see the building itself, sans tree. But like Sullivan and McMenamin, I’m ambivalent.

At the same time, it is pretty cool and has been there as long as most locals can recall. Photos in the Northwest Room at the Tacoma Public Library show no tree in the 20s but a rather short specimen appears in the early 1940’s.

Ramie Pierce, the city’s urban forester, said she has not heard any requests to remove the tree which stands in the right of way that would have been the end of S. 7th Street.

“People speak rather fondly of it,” she said. “I think in this case the community would have to weigh in.”

So, weigh in. I’ll include some responses when I write about the fabulous, funky monkey puzzle tree next week.

(And talk about good timing. Exit 133 and Kits Merryman below report that a veritable forest of tree experts will be in town next week for the 31st annual training conference of the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture.)

Leave a comment Comments → 19
  1. the tree just needs to be trimmed up, shaped, thinned out. I recommend http://treeresource.com/

  2. Trim it and shape it up!

    Or move it.

  3. scottsch111 says:

    I used to think these trees were really cool, now I’ve kind of soured on them. Still, maybe it would look nice trimmed up like the others have suggested. Branches hang nearly to the ground. If the bottom half of the trunk was uncovered, it might look really nice, and would reveal more of the building, although still blocking a circular window or two, which is the best part of that face. You can always give trimming a shot and re-evaluate, but obviously you can’t remove the whole thing and then re-evaluate.

  4. see what a skilled tree sculptor can do. that tree hasn’t gotten any love in a long time. Of course it looks terrible right now!

  5. Trees are more important than buildings. Keep the tree…trim the building!

  6. Why kill a tree? I agree…trim it up….They don’t transplant very well – especially that size…..

  7. cylhentz says:

    I love those trees and am generally opposed to cutting them down, but this one seems to interfere pretty significantly with not only the building, but the stairs. Either trimming it way back or removing it would allow light, vision and safety on that side of the building. Plus, it would be nice to actually see the building, once it is finished.

  8. Properly trimmed and cared for this tree can be an asset to the community. If nothing else it’s worth a try.

  9. I think this tree is more culturally significant and rare than that lonely wimpy tree out on the golf course.

  10. It’s a non-native, and thus invasive species. Cut it down and replant with a native species.

  11. This tree is a land mark. I can remember that tree from the mid 50s and have always liked it. It is a historical part of the stairs and the building. A skilled arborist could trim it up and as long as the structure of the tree is maintained it should continue to a part of the stairs. What stories that tree could tell.

  12. Do we always have to tear down, cut down, bulldoze anything that is over 20 years old in Tacoma? We have already lost so much. Our city is looking as homogonized as every other city in America. Throw a dart and they all look the same with no identity. So we spend thousands going to other countries to worship their historical buildings and artfacts. We are a young country and many mistakes have been made design-wise and architecturally but they are OUR mistakes. Lets put a “hands off” moratorium on history and relics and mistakes for a while and learn to appreciate them for what they are – American History.

  13. P.S. I just returned from a trip to Florida. Without a GPS you can’t tell one town from the next. Schlock runs into schlock and strip mall runs into strip mall. Which McDonald’s was that? Or which Burger King? It all looked the same, like so much cement and plastic and neon crap.

  14. I think it such a unique tree! It does distract a little bit from the building architecture when looking at the building from far away, but when you’re right next to it on the Spanish steps you appreciate it more. Its just a little overgrown, but I’d love to see it stay.

  15. loudandlocal says:

    Olemag, I couldnt agree more. I say it gets a trim and leave it. It may not be native, but it is not hurting anything and is WELL established. Trees like this should be protected. Its unique and a landmark. I have lived in Tacoma my entire life and would like to see this city cleaned up but for it to retain its potential charm. If you look beyond the way its been poorly maintained in some areas, you can see what could be considered regional flavor. And it could taste really good :)

  16. crenshawsepulveda says:

    How about seeing a little action going on workwise at Elks before we start talking about removing trees. How is that fancy garage coming along? Which grocery store will be moving in? Trim the tree and get to work.

  17. envirohawk says:

    Keep the tree – trim if you must, but make sure your tree-trimmer knows that species. I have seen many butchered trees that look worse after a bad trim.

  18. I feel the monkey puzzle tree should be replaced with either a smaller tree or a large shrub. I frequently walk by the old Elks building and have noticed the tree is not in good shape – there are no branches on the lower half.

  19. after4ever says:

    It’s definitely not the right tree for the space. Monkey Puzzle trees are neat looking but that one isn’t the right size or the right look for the setting.

    Even though it’s a nice old tree, there are better plants that could be set there. We don’t need that particular one. It’s not huge enough, old enough, and certainly not rare enough to justify holding on to it at any expense. Pretty soon it’ll be too big to stay healthy in that spot. It’s almost cruel to the tree to keep it there.

    Loving trees doesn’t always mean keeping them no matter what. But it does always mean planting them where they can thrive. And that didn’t happen here. It just took until now to see how obviously misplaced it is.

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