Town Crier: Oakland’s “grandpa” redwood stands tall after nearly 500 years

MONTCLARION: April 24, 2014

His friends call him “grandpa” or “old survivor.” He’s a towering figure in Oakland — his frame straight, tall and furrowed by age.

He lives along Horseshoe Creek — in the hills near what’s now Merritt College. And if he could talk, he’d have some incredible stories to tell.

“Grandpa” is Oakland’s last old growth redwood, born about 485 years ago if you go by the rings, which were last counted in 1969. That means he was a seedling when Shakespeare was young and 102 by the time Isaac Newton was born.

To be truthful, I’ve never seen this old redwood, which stands guard above the York Trail between Leona Lodge and the college. The trail is long, narrow and steep — with drop-offs and slippery mud after rains. Newspaper editor and historian Dennis Evanosky takes occasional tours to the area.

“The creek descends some 600 feet in less than a mile, so it’s really steep, and there are a few places where the water cascades over the rocks,” he says.

Yet there’s much to be gained from the journey. Reader Mark Stauffer has made the trek for years.

“I’ve lived in Oakland 54 years, and I think this trail is the most beautiful hike in all of our Oakland hills and park areas,” he writes. In fact, it was Stauffer who reminded me about this old tree and its significance to the area.

This is all I’m going to say about “grandpa.” There’ll be no map or further directions. See if you can find the tree on your own, or take a tour with the Oakland Heritage Alliance (

Make it a pilgrimage. If and when you find “old survivor,” think about what it took to endure threats of disease and pestilence and heavy logging after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Then send me your thoughts and I’ll share them in an upcoming column.

Beauty compromised: Speaking of landmarks, City Construction and Maintenance Supervisor Brad Blemker and I toured the old Montclair firehouse the other day. Shuttered since the early 1990s, it would take about $1 million to resurrect this old girl, who has great bones but needs retrofitting.

Is there anyone out there who could spearhead this project? There was talk of a fundraiser years ago to make this a firefighters’ history museum. Mark Zinn, Montclair’s park and recreation director, thinks it has great potential as a youth center. The Hansel and Gretel—style building could also be used for weddings, parties and live music events.

The longer the old firehouse sits, the more decrepit she gets. The floor in one room is already crumbling. It would be such a shame to lose this 1927 landmark. Is there anyone with time or money who can get the momentum started? Let me know.



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