Leona Heights Neighborhood News

by Gordon and Larry Laverty

Redwood tree Old Survivor. Photo by Ross Laverty.

Living in Oakland as we do, there's always one issue or another, from crime to zoning, that catches our attention to remind us that we live in one of the country's major cities. And our big cities keep getting more and more complex. Well come what may, there's a fella who lives high up on a slope in nearby Leona Park who's been a witness to our madness here for as long as people have been in Oakland. His name is Old Survivor. He's a redwood tree and he's old.'

While nobody quite knows exactly how old Old Survivor is, it's reported that he lived in the spot he does today when only the Native American Ohlones lived here. From his branches he watched these first people hunt and gather. From his branches he watched the conquering Spanish come, and then the Mexicans, and even the Russians. He watched residents at the newly established Mission San Jose oversee pasturing thousands of head of livestock on land that would become Oakland. He watched the first rancho built here, established by Luis Maria Peralta in 1820 on land granted to him by the King of Spain.'

By 1830, word had spread so far and wide of this paradise we now call Leona Heights, teeming with animals and lush plant life and minerals, Old Survivor then watched the coming of the profiteers. They came from all over, they jumped ship, they quit other jobs, and the pillaging was on. Helpless, he watched, in fear for his own life, the tragic annihilation of all of his neighbors, friends, and family. In just over 20 years, from roughly 1840 to 1860, the redwoods in the Oakland hills were gone. Gone. Except Old Survivor.'

As far as the eye could see from Leona Heights, to the north and to the south, was a giant redwood forest, the kind of place that national parks are made of. But no matter. One by one, people came along and had their way here. Even after the redwoods were taken by the lumbermen, the miners and the quarriers followed them. Old Survivor still stands, though, as a sentinel to remind us to make our choices wisely.

You can cast an appreciative eye his way from Campus Dr. off Redwood Rd. or from the fire trails nearby. And as a testament to the wisdom and strength of nature, determined relatives of Old Survivor have made a comeback and now populate sizable parts of nearby Chabot, Redwood, and Tilden Regional Parks.'

Gordon Laverty can be reached at lavertyhillmob2\@sbcglobal.net.