Inside USD

Campus Bids Farewell to USD’s Leaning Tree

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Physically, it’s gone. But in the hearts and minds of everyone who passed by in amazement and wonder on the University of San Diego campus, there will always be a safe, permanent place for it to live forever.

That seemed to be the overwhelming sentiment expressed as the campus community bid farewell to a beloved and symbolic landmark on Tuesday. A 50-plus-year-old leaning “star pine” tree, located next to Maher Hall and Aromas, was removed early Tuesday. After many attempts to save it, the diseased tree that had become a safety hazard because of a high risk of falling, was cut down in about an hour’s time.

News of the tree’s imminent removal was first explained in a campus email message on Jan. 10.

“The leaning tree, or Maher tree, has stumped arborists but fascinated visitors to Alcalá Park for many years. We are sad to see it go,” the email said. “Like a Torero, it showed courage and strength in forging its own path while watching over generations of students making their own mark here at Alcalá Park. Imagine the conversations that tree has overheard through the decades!”

Heartfelt responses, tributes and photos of the tree by the campus community poured in by email and on social media. Everyone who expressed their feelings — many recalled first seeing it as high school students when taking a campus tour — saw it as the loss of a unique attraction on what is one of the nation’s most beautiful college campuses.

“I know all Toreros will deeply miss this unique landmark which is easily a staple of USD’s identity … and beauty!” said Brook Cowan, who accompanied her response with tree photos from her cell phone (pictured, left). “These were taken during one of the many gorgeous sunsets at USD. No filter was used because no filter was needed!”

Nicholas Bihr, a sophomore, took a photo of the tree on the night of his freshman move-in day in fall 2012. “I lived in Maher and our hall faced the Immaculata, but every morning I would see the tree as I left my room. I also passed it all the time going from class to class and going to my room again. It was always so fascinating and strange, and beautiful,” he said. “It’ll be greatly missed!”

Seth Ellis, associate professor of marketing in the School of Business Administration, said: “After 20-plus years of enjoying this tree, I am sad to see it go. It brings a tear to my eye.”

Alicia Milla, a graduate student in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences’ Nonprofit and Leadership Program, said the tree provided comfort and a reminder of strength through a personally difficult time in her life.

“I loved that tree so much,” Milla said. “He became an inspiration and a close friend during late 2010 and through 2011 that I went through the loss and grief process of my husband and my mother passing away. The Leaning Tree gave me courage — if he could go on, so could I. If he reached out for life and the heavens, so could I.”

USD alumna Penny Navarro, current executive assistant in the Division of Professional and Continuing Education, said the tree was a great reference point.

“When my then-husband took the resident director position for what was then DeSales Hall, we moved into the southwest corner, second-floor apartment with our 1-year-old son. The leaning tree was always the thing we referred to when describing where we lived on campus.”

Some provided ideas for the tree, now saved and stored away in several pieces, to remain useful and, perhaps, even visible on campus.

Former Associated Students President Anthony Pavlovic ’12 suggested the tree’s remains be turned into engraved benches at USD tram stops. Residential Life Executive Assistant Irene Bubnack hoped an art project would result, “thereby keeping the spirit of the tree alive.”

A final decision on the tree’s future has not been made, but the university welcomes suggestions via email at

Nonetheless, on Tuesday, it was a time to pause, to reflect and to cherish a uniquely shaped tree that had a well-respected life.

— Ryan T. Blystone

All other photos courtesy of Fred Greaves

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