Golden Gate Bridge

Fallen Presidio Tree to Live on in New Park

A tree fell in the Presidio. Did anyone hear it?

If not, it’s unlikely anyone would’ve also missed the sound of the massive crane hoisting the fallen 90-foot Monterey Cypress out of the park last week — two sections weighing in at over 40 thousand pounds — floating across the timbered skyline as gracefully as if they’d been Lincoln Logs.

“It’s much taller than I am,” said the Presidio Trust’s five-feet ten-inches tall Michael Boland standing next to the tree just before it was hoisted away. “I mean I can’t believe how big this tree is.”

Joe Rosato Jr./NBC Bay Area
A 90-foot Monterey cypress tree lays in the forest of the Presidio where it recently fell. The tree was hauled to a mill where it will be turned into furniture for a new fourteen acre tunnel top park in the Presidio.

The tree had 130 years to accumulate its gargantuan proportions. The basketball hoop — which for some reason was standing in the midst of the forest canopy — stood no chance against the tumbling tree. It was the only casualty.

The tree’s obituary would read "died of natural causes." Maybe the soil was too soggy. The wind too strong. Perhaps it was just too old to stand there anymore.

Often when a massive tree falls — its best chance at continued existence is to be cut up for firewood. Or it might get made into something like a house or one of those chainsaw carved bears. The Presidio’s tree had the fortuitousness of geography by falling in the right park at the right time.

Joe Rosato Jr./NBC Bay Area
A 90-foot Monterey cypress tree is hoisted out of the Presidio on its way to a West Marin county mill. The tree will be turned into picnic tables, chairs and benches for the Presidio’s new tunnel top park.

As the Presidio Trust prepares to begin building a 14-acre park that will span across twin traffic tunnels, connecting the park to the bay, it set a goal of constructing half the new buildings and furniture from park trees that have either fallen over or were cleared away. So even as the giant tree exited the park via logging truck, its destiny was already set that it would eventually return to its geographic roots.

“We’re going to be milling this tree down and drying the wood,” explained Boland. “And then we’re going to turn it into benches and picnic tables and a variety of other features out in the Presidio tunnel top project.”

A fallen tree such as the Presidio’s cypress could probably do no better than to wind up at Arborica, the West Marin County mill founded by Evan Shively — a former chef-turned-woodworker-turned mill operator. The dirt roading leading into his facility near the town of Marshall is lined with large tree trunks of such generous girth you feel as if you are a hobbit entering a magic tree kingdom.

All around the mill, bustling devotion to trees; saw mills precisely slicing off a board at a time from a large tree trunk; tractors hauling arm-loads of trees as if they were twigs; a showroom where smooth, polished planks sit bathed in moody lighting designed to emphasize their grain.

Joe Rosato Jr./NBC Bay Area
Evan Shively of the Arborica mill in West Marin County looks at a Monterey cypress tree, similar to one that recently fell in San Francisco’s Presidio. The mill will prepare the tree to become furniture for a soon-to-be-built park on the Presidio’s tunnel tops.

And then there is Shively, opining the virtues of the Presidio’s majestic tree which will soon arrive for its own transformation.

“We are going to bring it here and unfold it to make it as beautiful as possible,” Shively said with reverence for his impending guest. “Mostly I think what we want to do is express the wonder that we feel when you regard it.”

Shively regarded a similar-sized Monterey cypress already at the mill which had been sliced in half — revealing its woody grain running the length of its majestic sprawling body. Shively grabbed a hose and splashed water on the tree’s face to further bring its grain to life.

The Presidio’s tree is inline for similar treatment Shively said — left in its long form but prepared for the craftsmen who will fashion it into the park’s benches, chairs and picnic tables. Shively said in a sense, the form the tree will take — will ultimately be left up to the tree.

“Really that’s the best way to utilize the resource,” Shively said. “Instead of deciding for it — what it is — discover along with it what it should be next.”

Last week as the tree soared over a grove of trees at the mercy of the crane, a slew of construction workers watched it pitch and dip gently onto the back of the truck that would carry it off to the mill. The driver strapped it down like a patient and began hauling it out the Presidio gates, across the Golden Gate Bridge and off toward the Marin coast — the beginning of what would be many new adventures.

Joe Rosato Jr./NBC Bay Area
Recently milled wood sits in a gallery in the Arborica mill in West Marin County.
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