The Encino Oak Tree History
The Encino Oak Tree, which was called The Lang Oak also, was a 1,000-year-old Quercus agrifolia, or California live oak tree, located in Los Angeles, CA. It’s actually located just 5 minutes away from my Encino dental office. In 1963, the tree was designated to be a Los Angeles Historic-Culture Monument (HCM #24). Here’s where you can find it on the map:
At one point, the Los Angeles Times made note that the Encino oak had been a mere sapling when the Vikings were sacking sea towns in England and the Mayan Empire was starting to crumble. When the first Crusade was launched by Pope Urban II, the tree was 100 years old already. And in 1769 when the first Europeans came through Encino as part of their Portola Expedition, at that point the tree was over 700 years old.
The Encino Oak Tree in the Mid 20th Century
During the mid-20th century, Encino developed into an established residential community. During this time the Encino oak became well known due to its longevity and size and was recognized as a famous landmark and known as the oldest tree in Los Angeles. When a California live oak tree is 300 years old that is when it’s considered to be old. The longevity of the Encino oak tree is considered to be extraordinary by arborists. One arborist compared it to standing near a dinosaur.
During pre-urban Encino times, the California live oaks were a very majestic and impressive presence. So much so, in fact, that they named the community for the Spanish word meaning “oak.” The most majestic of all of the oaks in the community was the Encino oak. It was so large that they had to split Louise Avenue in order to accommodate its gigantic 150-foot (46 meter) canopy, 24-foot (7.3 meter) circumference and 8-foot (2.4 meter) diameter. It was often said that the woodsy atmosphere created by Encino oak was more like an entire forest instead of just one tree.
The 1958 Bulldozing Threat to the Encino Oak Tree
The oak came under threat in 1958 when a developer made plans to have the tree bulldozed in order to build a road. A group was formed by local residents called Encino Save the Oaks. Eventually the developer ended up donating the tree to the city. In 1963 the tree was declared to be a Historic-Cultural Monument. The tree became a tourist attract in the years after it was designated to be a monument.
The 1990s Weakening of the Encino Oak Tree
The tree became in weakened condition during the 1990s. Some people blamed its condition on the Encino Reservoir, which was built in 1921, and cut the natural water flow off to the tree. Still others attributed it to all of the air pollution coming from all of the traffic on Venture Boulevard which was nearby. The tree had oak-root fungus also. Then in 1991, it got diagnosed as as having slime flux, which is a tree ailment where bacteria generates fermentation inside a tree and then toxic sap is sent to ooze through its bark. It was reported by arborists that the tree was in desperate need of some special care in order to save its life. City officials and arborists argued over what the right treatment was for the sick tree. One arborist suggested that small holes be chiseled into the bark so that the toxic sap that was killing the oak slowly could be released. Others argued that too much stress would be placed on the tree by the drilling, and that it should be left to heal on its own.
Efforts for saving the ailing oak turn into a highly publicized cause. The Los Angeles Times reported in 1996 that the oak was in trouble. It had mottled skin, that pins were used for holding some of its limbs together and its magnificent, shaggy head was hanging down from its great weight. In 1997, during an Arbor Day ceremony, the Encino oak was recognized and honored. In attendance was Wirt Stirling, who was the great-great grandson of J. Sterling Morton, the founder of National Arbor Day. He noted that he hadn’t ever seen anything nearly as phenomenal as the great oak.
The Final Days of the Encino Oak Tree
An El Nino storm, on February 7, 1998, dealt its death blow. The ailing tree was felled by strong storm winds. News of the tree’s death spread quickly, with crowds of people gathering to cry and take branches as souvenirs. After many decades of being threatened by pollution and development, it was noted by one resident that it was quite ironic that it was actually done in by nature. Police officers guarded the tree as so many souvenir-hunters tried to take away pieces of it so that the remains could be taken. One of the officers noted how things got out of control and how sad was that two policemen had to be taken off of the streets in order to guard a tree.
During the weeks that followed the death of the tree, city officials were debating what to do with its remains. This led the Times to wonder how many arborists, urban planners, homeowners, City Council aides and bureaucrats were needed to decree the mighty oak’s fate? The city ultimately decided to plant five new trees in the spot where the Encino oak once had been (right down the street from The Stand Encino Restaurant) – two coast live oaks and three California sycamores. During a ribbon-cutting ceremony in April 1999, an 8 x 6 foot oval section of the tree was unveiled by the city.
Pictures of the Encino Oak Tree
If you would like to see pictures of what the Great Encino Oak Tree (AKA The Lang Oak Tree) used to look like, you can find them here.