Find of the Month

February 2017 - "Reforestation"

Newspaper photo and caption

The issue of illegal tree-cutting comes up periodically in the city. In October 1970, the Seattle Times published an article about "wholesale pruning" outside the 5 Point Cafe downtown. The cafe's owner, Richard Smith, had cut down three sycamores because they were obscuring the business's sign. The trees were originally planted for the 1962 World's Fair and had grown to be about 25 feet tall, which Smith said was "too much." He said of the potential fine for cutting street trees, "I've blown $150 in a lot worse ways."

A group of University of Washington students read about the tree-cutting and decided to take action, arriving at the cafe with pickaxes, shovels, and two sycamore trees. They also brought signs reading "Thou Shall Not Kill," "$ vs. Trees," and "Going, Going, Gone." John Hinterberger of the Times described the ensuing scene:

The students put down their signs and picked up picks. They removed the asphalt covering and began digging out the stump of the tree. They had a 2-foot-deep hole in the sidewalk when Smith decided to do something.

First he called the newspapers; then he called the police.

Officers David Orange and F.D. McDonald arrived almost immediately. Three youths were digging furiously.

Officer Orange began cautiously.

"You digging that hole?" he asked. "Yep."

"Have you got a permit to dig that hole?"

"Nope."

"OK - you, you and you," Orange said. "Step over to the car, please."

Three more youths picked up shovels.

"Let's save time," Orange said. "Everybody who wants to dig, pick up the shovel and then come over to the car."

They all went.

Orange told them: "Look, you're probably going to get your tree planted anyway. Do you want to get a permit and do it the right way? Or do you want to go to jail?"

At this point an Engineering Department employee arrived on the scene and explained to the group how to obtain a permit, upon which one of the students jumped in her car to visit the street-use counter. Officer Orange allowed the digging to continue in the meantime, and the students successfully "reforested" Tillicum Square, with the appropriate permit.