Nicolle Generaux | Newsroom Manager
March 24, 2023
Have you ever looked at the tree behind the Triton statue and thought “You know, that tree looks out of place.” If you have, then you wouldn’t be the first.
Recently, Principal Carter started investigating this tree after former CUSD board member Patricia Holloway reached out to him regarding the history of it. Holloway, a former urban planter with an interest in San Clemente’s history, was tasked with writing a story about the tree after the City decided to bury a time capsule at the site.
“I have never really noticed it before,” junior Lyza Yetter mentioned, “but now that I think about it, it does seem out of place.”
The large tree surrounded by a ring of benches is a sequoia semperviren – or a California redwood. Although it can be easy to miss, its heavy-set trunk, stocky branches and overall build are much different than any other tree on campus.
Most of our landscape is taken up by green grass, bushes, palm trees, pine trees, and even chinese elms – all relatively native in this part of California and not uncommon to see outside of school. Redwood trees, on the other hand, are more rare – making the placement of this one rather peculiar.
These trees generally extend from the coasts of Oregon to central California, particularly in the north because of the heavy rainfall in the winter and misty fog in the summer. California is famous for these trees: we have several Redwood National and State Parks stretching along the north coast.
However, it is not common in southern California – again leading back to the mystery of why a singular redwood was planted on our campus.
“It is a unique tree in San Clemente — I can’t think of another sequoia in town,” commented Mr. Wilson, the freshman biology teacher that has worked here for 26 years. “It is an overlooked giant that no one sees.”
After more than a week of searching, Carter has found little about the tree – he spoke with present and past teachers, former principals and students, but no one seems to know where this mysterious tree has come from and why it is there.
However, Carter did find that the first yearbook of San Clemente High School, dating back to 1964, includes pictures of that area – and the tree was not there.
So, it was not there during the original construction of the school – so why was it added? And why a redwood tree – which is not only not native to the area but also takes more watering than any other tree present on campus?
After much investigating of my own, no one still truly knows why it was planted – but there are a couple theories.
I was first informed by Mrs. Kerr that the tree was planted in memory of Patricia Ibañez, a former English teacher that worked at San Clemente High School for 20 years, who passed away in 1995 due to a lethal cancer.
Our library on campus – Dr. Pat Ibañez Research and Media Center – is named after the former teacher, and inside it hangs a plaque with a cut out of an old newspaper article eulogizing her, written by Krystn Shrieve of the The News in 1995. In order to find more information, I looked into this article – but there is no record of it or even the newspaper company – making hearsay the only evidence we have of this theory.
And other teachers have different stories.
Mr. Wilson, having been here during the 1990s, appears certain that the tree is not in Ibañez’s memory.
“I don’t recall what is was for, but it could have been for an activity the senior class did that year.”
With the assistance of Jen Moffroid, an SCHS library technician, we discovered that Mrs. Westling, an English teacher at SCHS, also believes that the tree was not planted in Ibañez’s memory. Although, she did state that the benches surrounding the tree might be in memory of a former student who passed away in 1997. To follow up on this theory, I searched and found a record of this student in the school yearbooks and online – but the benches surrounding the tree have no mention of their name or date of construction. So, once again, it is all hearsay.
AP American History teacher Ms. McGuire, who has also been at SCHS since 1996, agrees that it was not Ibañez’s passing that is behind the redwood and that the benches were in memory of the 1997 student’s passing.
“This student was such an important part of SCHS,” commented Ms. McGuire. “It was truly a sad loss for the community.”
Unfortunately, she has also admitted that she cannot recall why the redwood was planted.
The final theory of this tree came from Mrs. Westling – that it could have been planted in the memory of Steve Wood, a former SCHS student who slipped into a coma after being injured in a fight following a football game in 1993, who then passed away three weeks later due to his injuries.
Once again, I did find a record of Steve Wood’s death in 1993, as well as several confirmations from other teachers regarding his passing – but absolutely no mention of a tree ever being planted in his honor.
Albeit, either the Ibañez theory or Wood theory regarding the planting of the tree would match up to the height of the tree. Semperviren trees grow to around 50 feet tall in 30 years if planted in a non-native habitat, around the same height that the tree stands at today. Coincidentally, both theories would have occurred in the 1990’s, or around 30 years ago. So, the timeline for either theory would match up with the tree’s growth.
However, after closer observation, Mr. Wilson believes that the tree might have been planted long before the 1990s.
At the moment, no one really knows. Principal Carter promises to keep up the research and let Triton Times know he has any updates.
The tale of the mysterious redwood tree is not over yet.
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