Fate of Merry Prankster tree in limbo as neighbors rally

County approves removal permit, but also asks architect to preserve heritage tree

The days of "Chloe's Tree," home to hawks and witness to the Dymaxion dance troupe and Merry Pranksters, may be numbered.

The redwood tree, measuring 4 feet in diameter, has stood near the yard's border at 180 Stanford Ave. longer than anyone living can remember. But the real estate developers who bought the unincorporated West Menlo Park property last year plan to build a new house, one whose footprint leaves no room for the redwood.

"What bothers me, and bothered me from the beginning, is that this isn't someone with a sudden need to expand a house," said Roberta Morris, who lives nearby. She wondered if the tree's presence factored into the purchase as an easily removed obstacle.

"If everybody who asks (for a removal permit) gets a yes, that bothers me," she said.

The house, owned in previous years by Chloe Scott, also known as "Chloe Scott the dancer" in Tom Wolfe's book, "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," has stories of its own within the wood of its walls. The main portion of the 1,667-square-foot building served as an officers' club at Camp Fremont during World War I for thousands of Army troops, according to neighborhood lore, before being relocated to Stanford Avenue. Ms. Scott later added a dance studio in back, where her Dymaxion troupe rehearsed.

A short distance away sits Perry Lane, also known as Perry Avenue, also known as the place Ken Kesey, author of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," lived. His street had "Kesey's Tree," an ancient oak of which Mr. Wolfe noted, perhaps apocryphally, "Everybody was attracted by the strange high times they had heard about the Lane's fabled Venison Chili, a Kesey dish made of venison stew laced with LSD, which you could consume and then go sprawl on the mattress in the fork of the great oak in the middle of the Lane at night and play pinball with the light show in the sky."

Then a developer bought most of Perry Lane, according to Mr. Wolfe. Reporters descended upon the street expecting to record "sonorous bitter statements about this machine civilization devouring its own past. Instead, there were some kind of nuts out here. They were up in a tree lying on a mattress, all high as coons, and they kept offering everybody, all the reporters and photographers, some kind of venison chili, but there was something about the whole setup ..."

The oak survived. It escaped San Mateo County's ax three times, thanks to neighborhood protests, only to finally die of root rot in 2005.

Now nearly 30 neighbors have banded together to "Help Save Chloe's Tree."

Ron Snow, dubbed the "Mayor of Menlo Park Plants and Gardens" by at least one friend, has lived nearby on Stanford Avenue for about 33 years.

"I sit in my backyard and can see the hawks land in the tree. You don't often get to see hawks, but I see (them) here and I don't see them land in other trees," he said.

A software designer by trade, he devotes some of his free time to planting redwoods around the Santa Cruz region. He noted the big tree offers benefits beyond those of ambience and wildlife habitat. Property values are higher in tree-lined neighborhoods; cooling and heating costs can also be reduced.

"If neighbors would understand, I think they would rally together and builders might be more inclined to keep the big trees -- well, I don't know if that would happen," Mr. Snow said. "It's a crime, in a way, that builders come in and rip down a historic house, a historic tree, and put in a cookie-cutter house."

The county did grant the removal permit in May, but after noticing the opposition, asked the architect to redesign the new house to protect the redwood tree. Carter Warr of CJW Architecture was not immediately available for comment.

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Like this comment
Posted by Glenn Lanum
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jul 9, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Thanks for bringing attention to the plight of Chloe's Tree on July 9th and the additional McMansion-ization of this unincorporated West Menlo Park community. I don't think this neighborhood has been modernized so much as it has been over-sprawled. Some larger lots have appropriately bigger houses but most lots are minimum sized and now even undersized lots are being overbuilt. The county seems not to mind and approves whatever builders ask for. Speaking for myself, we in the community feel unrepresented by any local government.

Like this comment
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 10, 2013 at 10:49 am

Menlo Park has gutted their tree protection program. The last report of approvals/rejections posted on the city website is from 2012. It indicates that they basically rubber stamp requests to remove trees for any reason whatsoever. I asked the city why they no longer keep the web site up to date and they cited budgetary reasons. Pretty sad for a town that has an oak tree as their symbol.

Like this comment
Posted by Ken
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Jul 11, 2013 at 9:07 am

Perry Lane has been surpassed as the epicenter of Merry Prankster behavior. The new epicenter is now Pope Street in the Willows.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Jul 11, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Ken - Intriguing comment. How is Pope the new Perry? Are the retired Merry Pranksters who're still alive living there?

Like this comment
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 11, 2013 at 4:53 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

Try the County for the location of the tree. Don't believe it is in the city jurisdiction.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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