By Jon Standefer
One of the signature trees in South Park — a magnificent, massive, maybe-century-old ficus tree — has bit the dust.
I’ve lived in South Park for 37 years, and I never got tired of looking at that monstrous tree that shaded much of the east side of 29th Street between Ivy and Juniper streets. It was at least 60 feet tall, and measured 15 feet, 6 inches in circumference at its base.
Although there are several types of ficus trees, this was mostly likely a ficus benjamina, also known as the weeping fig, Benjamin Fig or ficus tree. It has a serious downside: The U.S. Forest Service says the “roots grow rapidly, invading gardens, growing under and lifting sidewalks, patios and driveways.”
This particular tree also wreaked havoc on plumbing in neighboring houses and city water and sewer lines. And it clogged sidewalks and gutters annually when the sticky berrylike figs dropped.
For the last 20 years or so, the heavy branches — which start almost at ground level — have been supported by half-inch steel cables attached to the main trunk. But when a windstorm in December caused one of the cables to snap, the great tree went from the category of troublesome to dangerous. That convinced the owners of the property, Elizabeth and Jonathan Glasier, to make the unwanted decision to take it down.
It took eight men two days to reduce it to a four-foot stump, and another day for a stump-chipping firm to grind it down to ground level. Almost everyone was sad to see it go, but most realized the inevitability of the removal.
Fletcher Sigler, the woman who rents the house, was so devastated that she left her home while the demolishing was done. She mentioned the loss of wildlife — the squirrels, the birds, the butterflies — but even she recognized the problems caused by that mighty tree.
The next-door neighbor, Jeff Gunn, who had to replace his plumbing because of the tree’s invasive roots, had urged the owners over the years to remove the tree.
It was, at a minimum, more than 60 years old. It was already full grown in 1957, according to a photo in the archives of the San Diego Historical Society in Balboa Park. Since the house on that property was built in 1911, it could easily be much older.
“I’m sad to see it go, in a way,” Gunn said. “But it belonged in a park.”
— Jon Standefer lives in South Park and asked to write an ode to the old ficus.