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Long Beach recognizes 100-year-old tree with ties to early city development

A California Pepper Tree at Stearns Champions Park could be one of the oldest trees in Long Beach.

Long Beach recognizes 100-year-old tree with ties to early city development
Councilmember Daryl Supernaw gives remarks at a ceremony to dedicate the 100-year-old tree at Stearns Champions Park Tuesday May 28, 2024. Photo by Jason Ruiz

Long Beach officials recognized one of the city’s oldest known trees Tuesday morning during a ceremony at Stearns Champions Park in East Long Beach where a 100-year-old pepper tree will have a plaque mounted on it to note its historical significance.

The park is part of the footprint of what was historically Rancho Los Alamitos, which was owned by Abel Stearns and later by the Bixby family. Aerial photos taken in the 1920s helped officials date the tree, which was planted near the entrance of a pumping location used by the Long Beach Water Department until 1954.

Stearns still serves a role in the city’s water supply, with multiple underground wells in operation at the site that help provide vital groundwater to the community. And now, it has the distinguished “Artcraft Manor Neighborhood Tree” fronting its southern side.

The park is located in the Artcraft Manor community that was developed in the early 1940s.

Councilmember Daryl Supernaw, who represents the area, said the tree first came to his attention when talking to a neighbor near the park about a different project. The person pointed out that a second pepper tree had been removed sometime around 2008 and it appeared to be in good health.

When Supernaw took office in 2015, he wanted to ensure the city’s oldest tree didn’t meet the same fate. The Councilmember reminisced about walking beneath that tree’s low-hanging branches en route to a nearby playground.

“My first request was to send out a memo to every department with a chainsaw,” Supernaw said of his initial efforts to keep the tree standing.

The formal process to save the tree began last year when the city’s Community Development Department, which oversees historic preservation efforts, began investigating the actual age of the tree.

The plaque that will be fitted to the pepper tree at Stearns Champions Park. Photo by Jason Ruiz

Alison Spindler-Ruiz, the planning bureau manager for the department, said that the tree provides a tangible connection to the city’s history, including the Bixby family who helped plant some of the earliest trees along Anaheim Road and Bryant Road.

The species is originally from Peru, but records show that they were first brought to the region in the 1830s, Spindler-Ruiz said.

She said the plaque will be positioned on the tree once arborists can determine where the best placement is that keeps the tree safe and the text readable to the community.

How old is the Artcraft Manor Pepper Tree compared to others in the city?

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It’s tough to say, according to Larry Rich, the city’s manager at the Office of Sustainability.

Rich said some trees at Bixby Park are believed to have been planted in the 1880s and other large eucalyptus trees that used to line city streets could all be older than the one dedicated Tuesday. However, there’s little documentation to prove if those trees are still alive and many could have died or been removed over the decades.

“Since trees have a natural lifespan and they get challenged from living in an urban environment they’ve all probably run their course,” Rich said.

Jason Ruiz has been on strike from the Long Beach Post since March 21, yet he’s still covering city hall without pay. Thank him for his reporting.

Having the tree recognized is “huge” for Supernaw who gave credit to the city staff who did the necessary research to date the tree. He also credited his upbringing in the Artcraft Manor neighborhood, which ultimately helped him identify the tree in a grainy 1928 aerial shot of the water station.

“Sometimes I have differing ideas of what’s important in the city,” Supernaw said. “And it’s very special to see that embraced by others.”

The tree’s plaque has a QR code that can be scanned to learn more about its history as well as the community that was around when it was first planted.

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