The history reflected in a few neighborhood trees
In Sellwood, the tiny house built in 1904 on the southwest corner of S.E. 8th and Harney Streets is dwarfed by three tall Douglas fir trees, now more than 100 feet in height.
While the trees are thriving, the same cannot be said for that unfortunate little dwelling, which has been in a downward spiral for at least 30 years. As the structure declined, the 50x100 lot under it increased in value. Finally in late 2020 the property was purchased by Renaissance Homes, which will be clearing the lot and probably the trees, for new construction. [Rita Leonard reported on an effort to save these trees in the March BEE.]When they reach this height, Douglas fir have an imposing physical presence and suggest the landscape before the Sellwood Real Estate Company began selling lots in 1882. However, these particular trees may not be survivors of "pre-development Sellwood". According to online information from the Arbor Day Foundation, Douglas fir trees average 12-24 inches of growth per year. If these trees are 120 feet tall that means that they were only seedlings in 1882, not older, as might be assumed.Perhaps because Douglas fir, our official state tree, are so common, there are only a few on the city's Heritage Tree list. However, the two tallest, at 242 feet (Macleay Park) and 268 feet (N.W. Cornell Road), are of impressive stature. If those on S.E. Harney Street are taken down, it will be an expensive undertaking, requiring strenuous climbing by an arborist with a chain saw, slicing the trees section by section.
At Wilhelm's Portland Memorial Funeral Home, at S.E. 14th and Claybourne in Westmoreland, the future of most of the two dozen fir trees on the north side of the facility is now more positive than originally thought. Until recently, Portland Memorial had two large parking lots facing its building on Southeast 14th. The lot between Bybee and Glenwood Streets was sold, and nine new townhomes are well under construction there. The northern lot, the site this year of the Moreland Farmers Market, according to the owners of the funeral home, will also be sold for development.
In 2018 Foundation Partners of Florida, the company that now owns Wilhelm's announced their intent to build a new, smaller parking lot on the north side of their building between Claybourne and Duke Streets. This is a large piece of property, nicknamed "Moreland Woods" – almost two acres in size – undeveloped, but which has been used for produce vehicles during the Wednesday market, and as a local de facto dog park the rest of the year. The original parking lot plan in that space called for removal of 25% of the tree cover there. Following the announcement of the plan, and concerned about tree loss, some neighbors formed the "Friends of Moreland Woods" in an effort to purchase the property, or persuade a public agency to do so, for use as a public park.
While the effort to acquire the entire property so far has not been successful, negotiations with the property owner have resulted in a more satisfactory design. Last July, a City of Portland hearing officer determined that construction of the new parking lot could move forward, and a building permit has been applied for.
In mid-March of this year, a sign was posted by Portland engineering firm DOWL which revealed the new plans, and indicated the trees to be removed. Surprisingly, now the subtraction of only two fir trees is proposed. The other trees to disappear will all be Black Locust and Norway Maple, which are notoriously prolific, and are classified as "nuisance trees" by the city. According to Matt Robinson, land use planner for DOWL, the paved lot will provide parking for up to 20 cars and one ADA van. A small access road, aligned with Claybourne Street, will replace the existing gravel track, and the lot will include stormwater treatment.
The final tree we are contemplating in this article is a statuesque Copper Beech, which was designated as one of Portland's Heritage Trees in 1994. With ten-foot long branches stretching out from its massive trunk, it extends over most of its own lot next to the historic Jasper Young house, at 1579 S.E. Nehalem Street. According to its designation, it was planted to commemorate the wedding of Jasper Young and Anna Schuyler in 1893.
Going into further detail of those circumstances, by 1889 Jasper Young had started the Sorenson & Young sawmill at the foot of Spokane Street, later purchased and expanded into the "East Side Lumber Mill". Presumably the Young house, now carefully restored by its current owners, was constructed of materials from his mill. At the time of its designation as historic in 1994, the tree was 88 feet tall – so presumably it has gained additional height in the ensuing years.
Unfortunately, during this year's mid-February snow and ice storm, one of its huge lower branches became coated with ice and fell, tearing a long gash in the trunk. Thoughtfully, it did not hit the house or any cars, but it did bring down a power line and a large section of fence. Angela Zahara, one of the homeowners, had the tree evaluated by three arborists (a city inspection is still weeks in the future). The firm she chose to work with said the fallen limb had formed around an earlier dead one, and consequently hadn't been as strong as it appeared. The arborist will begin work in April to reduce and lighten the tree's crown – while leaving a three-foot stub of the broken branch, which will encourage new branches to form. In addition, the wood of the tree below will "feed" the recovering area, so it won't die and rot. He predicts the tree will survive, and will fill in relatively quickly.Zahara understands that, with global warning, we can expect more extreme weather patterns, such as drought and freezes. Warmer temperatures may encourage trees to grow faster, but they will be more stressed and vulnerable. This is a reminder to any tree owner to take good care of them, and to have a certified arborist evaluate them and do regular pruning to avoid future damage.
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