One of the few trees that has been designated a City Landmark in Santa Monica is the Moreton Bay Fig Tree in the courtyard of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel.
The tree has a historic and somewhat romantic past. It is said to have been planted from a sapling carried by a sailor who had come from Australia to Santa Monica, circa 1879. The sailor used the sapling to pay for a drink at a local watering hole. The bartender then gave it to the wife of the gardener of Senator John P. Jones, founder of Santa Monica. The resulting tree grew on the grounds of the Jones mansion, which eventually became the Miramar Hotel.
The tree grew to an impressive size, 80 feet in height, with a 120-foot network of branches. The second largest tree of its kind in California, it has long been a popular gathering place in Santa Monica. It was designated in 1976 and has become, in the words of Miramar General Manager Ellis O’Connor, “Near and dear to our community.”
But even trees with long life spans need care, and the Miramar fig tree is about to undergo some health treatments.
“The ownership of the hotel is required to maintain the tree and in previous years it’s been somewhat neglected,” says O’ Connor. “When the new management [Fairmont] took over the property, they were concerned about the well-being of the tree and decided to do some extensive research, work with the City of Santa Monica, work with many professional arborists who have dealt with this tree, to make sure that it’s in good health.”
Trees need to be trimmed from time to time, and some trees that have many long branches are subject to what is known as “sudden branch drop,” which is a safety issue. O’Connor says that the Fairmont Miramar has agreed with the City’s findings that the fig tree needs to have some of its branches re-cabled so that the tree is better balanced, and that the tree will need a “haircut.”
The work will be done by Valley Crest, “one of the most respected landscaping companies in the United States,” says O’Connor.
But as the fig tree is a landmark, any work to be done for its maintenance must be approved by the Landmarks Commission, which needs to examine the proposed actions and issue a Certificate of Appropriateness. O’Connor says that the Miramar has submitted a report to the Commission with the hope of being able to commence work in May.
“We were shooting for the beginning of May, the reason for that being the growth cycles for the tree,” explains O’Connor. According to the City findings, the tree must be trimmed at a time that will not interfere with the growth cycle. Cutting the tree at the wrong time might also result in an outpouring of sap.
At press time, according to Landmarks Commission Secretary Roxanne Tanemori, the review process for the fig tree has not yet been confirmed.
But O’ Connor wants people to know that the Fairmont’s goal is to make sure that the fig tree can live out its natural lifetime – possibly another 150 years.
“The message I want to convey is that our primary interest is to look after the tree. We just want to let everybody in the community know that that’s why we’re doing the work – for the benefit of the tree. We really value it and we felt that communicating was better than not communicating at all.”