Reflections: A history of La Jolla through some of its oldest inhabitants: trees
by Carol Olten
Jul 11, 2012 | 1084 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Trees have played a significant role in La Jolla’s history, ranging from the more than 2,000 that were planted as a beautification effort to sell lots by pioneer developers in the late 19th century to present-day efforts to replace some of the recently departed eucalyptus by the La Jolla Village Merchants Association.

Ironically, the eucalyptus — removed from Girard Avenue as a safety precaution, according to a city arborist — were part of the original plantings from the 1890s. Both Girard and Herschel avenues once were lined with eucalyptus that formed a bower over the streets much like the traditional oaks on old Southern plantations. They were planted along with hundreds of cedars, pines and palms in La Jolla’s early history as attractive greenery for the then-barren landscape.

Lack of water led to the death of many of the early La Jolla trees, although some still survive, including the iconic line of palms at Scripps Park near La Jolla Cove, planted through the efforts of Walter Lieber, a pioneer Realtor with great interest in beautification projects.

Similar interest in the beautification of La Jolla’s landscape and preserving the memories of those who helped accomplish it has led to the planting of numerous memorial trees. Eleanor B. Parkes, one of the founding members of the La Jolla Historical Society, planted a tree in Scripps Park on Oct. 18, 1936, honoring what would have been Ellen Browning Scripps 100th birthday after her death in 1932 at age 96. Another tree, a New Zealand Christmas tree (metrosideros tomentosa) joined the park landscape around the same time, honoring Kate Sessions’ 82nd birthday. It was planted in the horticulturist’s honor by the La Jolla Garden Club.

In 1928, the La Jolla Woman’s Club and the Alliance Francaise celebrated a visit by French ambassador Myron T. Herrick by planting a spruce tree on the club grounds. Much earlier, in May 1916, the woman’s club celebrated its popular Shakespeare Festival that year by planting a Great Northern Oak in honor of the Bard.

Trees have taken on special meanings and purposes to La Jollans through the years. Among the fascinating tree stories are the many tall and graceful star pines planted through the village and along the cliffs in the early years. Legend has it they were aligned to lead persons walking along deserted dirt trails to their points of destination.

But perhaps the most fascinating tree story of all concerns a young girl in the 1930s who hoisted herself into a pepper tree on Ivanhoe Avenue, determined to set an all-time record for tree sitting. (This was many years before environmentalists took to sitting in trees as an effort to keep them from being cut down; in the 1930s tree-sitting mania swept the country for a short time as a popular children’s sport.)

La Jolla’s Maybelle Pearce, 11, stayed in the pepper tree 10 days as the townspeople brought her sustenance. She did not make the Guinness Book of Records, but her efforts were rewarded with a three-month pass to the Granada movie theater and another pass to the miniature golf course.

— Carol Olten is the historian of the La Jolla Historical Society

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