Large tree in park fallen branch
The compromised giant sequoia in Garfield Square. Photo by Griffin Jones, Feb. 23, 2023

At the corner of Harrison and 25th Streets, a giant sequoia tree (sequoiadendron giganteum) in Garfield Square snapped nearly in half around 5 p.m. Tuesday, wrecking several cars and a telephone pole.

The compromised tree may date to the founding of Garfield Square 1884, according to a 2012 communication from Recreation and Parks Department manager Eric Andersen.

A car and telephone pole were smashed by the sequoia’s fallen limb. Photo by Griffin Jones, Feb. 23, 2023

The giant sequoia has spread itself wide, with three trunks and numerous branches growing from each limb. One of its trunks snapped clean off in the wind. There were no injuries.

“Giant sequoias are supposed to grow straight and strong. Because it’s so windy here, they grow three trunks,” said Antonio Caceres, who works in Garfield Square with San Francisco Recreation and Parks. “Now that one side’s gone, it’s liable to either fall this way or that.” 

Caceres speculated that the tree will likely have to be removed entirely.

A man in his 60s pulled over in his car, got out and stared in amazement. The driver, who preferred to remain anonymous, said he grew up in Silver Terrace and has passed by the tree every day for years on his way over Bernal.

“I never gave the tree a hug. I miss that I never did. To see this big-ass tree — it has to be over 100 years old.”

If the tree does indeed date back to the founding of Garfield Square, it’d be pushing 140. Among Rec and Park staff, some say it’s 200 years old, which would predate the founding of San Francisco and may be a bit of hyperbole. The oldest photo evidence Rec and Park could find of the tree dates to 1938. 

A city gardener, who declined to give his name, stopped in at the scene and said the tree formed the way it did due to elevation.

“It’s very low. They usually like 8,000- to 12,000-feet elevation, like in the mountains, where they grow straight up. I think that’s why this is so multi-trunked, because there’s wind constantly coming from one direction, and to get as much sun as possible.” 

The tree before it fell. Photo by Marcel Moran, February, 2022.

The gardener pointed to abundant gray fungus spreading in the trunk of the tree. Standing nearby, you can pick up its stale, earthy smell. 

“There’s more fog here than it’s used to. I believe they’re going to, likely, have to take it down. If they just cut off parts of it, it will grow funny.”

The aging tree may always have been a fish out of water — and it’s also a rarity. A form from the Urban Forestry Council lists it as one of only four sequoia trees in San Francisco parks. 

The massive fallen limb cut off the internet along Harrison Street and over to Glen Park, which is served via the same line. This was confirmed by Henry Ahching of Sonic, who was on site to restore the wires.

Staff in Garfield Square’s Recreation and Parks office were working without the internet. “I’m on a hotspot,” said Kimberly Burdeen. 

Aerial shot of Garfield Square in 1938. The giant sequoia is circled in red. Photo courtesy SF Recreation and Parks.

She, too, thought it was likely that Public Works will have to take the whole tree down. Kids and dogs constantly play on and around the tree, said Burdeen.

Semaj Jefferson, sitting next to Burdeen, noted that the fall could have been fatal: “There were people sleeping in the backseat of that car.”

Many people walking by were lamenting the giant’s state. Caceres sighed. “It’s sad we’re losing that tree — but it kinda shouldn’t have been there.”

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Reporter/Intern. Griffin Jones is a writer born and raised in San Francisco.

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  1. Since the Third Grade, (1959) going home from Saint Peter’s Elementary, I stopped by often to visit our old friend. I could scurry to the top in less than two minutes. The tree was a fountain of magical powers. I was invisible, completely invisible, hidden in the boughs. Tom Sawyer never had it this good. I invited my two brothers and our friends; the fun only magnifies the merrier times. There were stories told and brags stated up there. But the tree was an excellent listener, never interrupting, criticizing, or condemning us for passing our time there.
    It was a critical time when we were supposed to be home doing our chores and homework. Search parties trying to retrieve us back to reality never did find us. Even if they did, the tree has two brothers in the same park, and we often visited them similarly. But this guy was our respite from daily grief, earning our respect even today. I would have given my life to save it if I only knew it was dying.
    Once, we acted on our boyish mischiefs and dreams. We were bombardiers loaded with firecrackers and cherry bombs. We would let the Nazis have it from our encampments hidden in the branches. As they walked by, we watched them feel each explosion in glee. Unable to see anyone in the tree, they assumed it was a stupid stunt that probably came from an evil passing motorist on their ride. At another time, on the park bench beneath us, we could watch the young lovers caressing each other. The girl seemed constantly pushing an advancing hand away from her chest. If we laughed and remained hidden, they would often move away to another area that felt less haunted than this one.
    So—yes, I am crying over a goddamned tree in this memorial! I may be alone at this, but that’s okay too, because there is another place where the Sequoia Redwoods live. And I often go there. I talked to them about their brother and all those memories he gave us. They understand. And I know this is true of the one familiar trait they have with their brother. They never interrupt. They always listen. They hear what you have to say.
    Isn’t that a good thing?

  2. great piece start to finish, who knew there could be so much to say about a single tree I’ve been passing by for years! I can’t stop thinking about the people living out of their car who lost their home to such a freak occurence though, and I would like to find them to organize some help- dear author is any way you can point me in the right direction, maybe privately? I will ask around locally too, but just figured it was worth a try

  3. Sadly those beautiful trees are used as urinals by the soccer teams, leagues, clinic participants and they never get water but for the rain. They are not trimmed unless a branch falls…which happens every few years….the ground is often per soaked around the other tree.

    The other tree bases in Garfield are used as toilets by the gamblers and people who hang out and drink for several hours each afternoon/eve. Some of them do get water from the sprinklers which I hope dilutes the pee…

    The trees are not maintained at all

  4. Oh no! My dog and I walk through the park frequently, and I always stop to marvel at that tree. I appreciate the background about the tree and its age – and the hyperbole.

  5. The tree can be bound back together. If fungus waa noticed, they could have treated it instead of simply stating it after the fact. It can likely be saved by a knowledgeable arborist who actually cares.

  6. Have Saw, will Travel.
    This was due to improper tree maintenance. Seems most tree huggers really have no clue.

    1. It’s maintained by SF Rec and Parks, which has an outsized proportion of blue collar MAGA types who aren’t fans of the gov and work for the gov. Call them tree huggers but they’re responsible. Responsible for running over and killing the woman lying on the grass with her infant at Holly Park, responsible for maintaining the tree limb that fell on the women in the playground at Washington square park. Tell us about the people who walk up and hug this tree despite it being a bathroom for dogs.

  7. I’m not sure if ‘Aging tree ..’ is accurate since by Giant Sequoia standards, this tree is a baby. So what if it grows funny. Leave the sequoias alone, move the cars and let it be.

  8. I would say the tri-trunk is due to the tree losing its terminal top early in life, at which point the Sequoia generated two terminal tops, and not long after the NW of those two tops again lost its terminal top. The twin trunks that remain are the products of that second topping.

    The Sequoias may have been planted when the park was developed, but they are considerably smaller than most of the other trees in the 1938 photo, and those trees were likely planted when the park was formed. They might have taken longer to get going, or might have been added some years later. Either way, the Giant Sequoia just to the south of the one that fractured was planted at the same time, and will soon be Garfield Square’s only centennial tree, and one of three city sequoias.

    Good article.