ON ITS WAY DOWN: This landmarked tree has been ordered cut down by city officials. (Daniel Archuleta daniela@smdp.com)

NOMA — A landmarked eucalyptus tree in a private yard on 24th Street will come down by Saturday after an 11th-hour inspection yielded no certainty that the giant tree was not a threat to the public.

Santa Monica Community Forester Walt Warriner and four independent arborists reported to the tree at 8 a.m. Tuesday for a final analysis of its condition.

It was a big moment. The tree is approximately 100 years old and 100 feet tall, making it the largest known specimen of its type in the country.

Faith and Harry Rumack, the tree’s owners, got it officially landmarked with City Hall in order to protect it from any outside harm.

In the landmark application, they point to the fact that the tree is known far and wide, and is highlighted in two books, “Trees of Santa Monica” and “Exceptional Trees of Los Angeles.”

Opinions on its condition prior to Tuesday morning had varied.

Warriner and Lisa Smith, an arborist hired by City Hall, determined that the tree was falling apart at the seams from a nasty decay fungus that had infected its upper section.

They pointed to the fungus as the agent that caused three heavy limbs — one weighing in at 2,000 pounds — to fall from the tree. The third struck a neighbor’s car, damaging it.

Arborists Carl Mellinger, Bob Hansen and Bob Wallace felt that the tree was sound overall, and that consistent and careful pruning of the weak branches would be enough to preserve it in place.

After the inspection, Warriner felt more confident than before that the tree would have to come down.

“Once I got into the tree, I was more concerned that the decay had spread further than anticipated,” Warriner said. “There were other wounds that were entry points for decay fungi. The science points to the fact that the potential is there. There are significant limbs that, if they were to fail, would cause serious damage.”

There is a risk, agreed Hansen.

“As far as most of us are concerned, a proper pruning would certainly improve it, but there’s no one that can say there won’t be more failures in the future because no one can control that,” he said.

The placement of the tree, which sits right on the property line between the Rumacks and their neighbors, also presents a problem.

If a limb fell, it has a lot of things to hit, Hansen said.

“There’s a target of people, cars, a couple of houses … it’s a big tree, a serious situation,” Hansen said.

Issues with the tree first came to light in July when the three branches fell within two weeks.

The first could be explained by typical problems encountered in the summer when dry weather weakens branches by sucking the water out of them, Warriner said.

Two more, however, showed signs of decay.

Code compliance issued an order dated Aug. 22 demanding that the Rumacks remove the tree by Sept. 15 or face up to $25,000 a day in fines.

Although the family hoped to save the tree by bringing in outside arborists, City Hall would not be swayed.

That doesn’t mean anyone is happy about the situation, Warriner said.

“I personally am heartbroken about having to do this,” Warriner said. “I don’t like doing it and people can say what they want but public safety is important. I don’t like taking out this tree.”

The family is making plans about how best to memorialize the tree, said Asher Rumack, Harry and Faith’s son.

They’ve discussed making a table as well as other crafts and small furniture from the wood and having prints made out of photos of the tree. A large wall in their home might be used to display photographs mounted on thin slabs of the trunk.

In addition, the family is considering leaving a 10 to 20-foot stump in their front yard as a memorial.

“There’s some solace in knowing we can be reminded of the tree around our house even if we couldn’t save its life,” he said.

 

ashley@smdp.com

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