If a cherry tree falls along Pike Street — or if a total of eight of them fall — will anybody hear?
As reported by David Kroman in The Seattle Times a few days ago, a linear grove of cherry trees more than four decades old in downtown Seattle is slated to be cut down to make way for bike lanes and wider sidewalks.
The Pike Street cherry trees were planted in 1980, and they blossom briefly every year, just like the beloved trees on the UW campus and in so many yards and parking strips around the city. There were originally 12 or 13 trees in total, planted on each side of Pike Street between First Avenue and Second Avenue. Over the decades, four or five have died or been damaged and later removed.
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That block is slated to get wider sidewalks and a bike lane in each direction as part of a project to better connect downtown and Capitol Hill. This means the trees have been marked for removal — and that removal could be happening as early as Monday morning.
“Construction on this block will begin on March 6, and the tree removal [will] likely be one of the early steps in construction,” according to an email from Lauren Stensland of Waterfront Seattle, a private non-profit working to redevelop the waterfront and adjacent areas of downtown Seattle.
There was a public process that weighed, among other things, the future of the urban grove, Stensland wrote, but the cherry trees did not make the cut for being kept and nurtured along what many consider to be one of the most picturesque blocks in downtown Seattle.
“SDOT [Seattle Department of Transportation] has involved the community on the development of the new streetscape on this block,” Stensland wrote. “There was a desire for trees with a longer lifespan that will eventually arch over the street below and frame sightlines to the Pike Place Market sign and clock and not block the existing pedestrian lighting.”
And that’s a shame, said Ruth Danner, president of a non-profit group called Save The Market Entrance.
“Those trees line the entrance to Pike Place Market,” Danner told KIRO Newsradio early Monday morning. “When you go from the city into Pike Place Market, you know that you are going someplace special and different, [and] all of First Avenue there by Pike Street is a unique step into the past.
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“I’ve lived in that neighborhood,” Danner continued. “It’s a place for people to come together and get a breath of fresh air and a change from the city pace.”
Danner said volunteers from her group visited Pike Street on Sunday and tied yellow ribbons on the eight remaining cherry trees — ribbons made from yellow and black caution tape.
Save The Market Entrance said that, counter to what some have claimed, the cherry trees are not diseased and don’t need to be removed. Danner said that with proper care — which is actually the responsibility of the adjacent property owners, not of the city — the cherry trees could live for 80 years or more, according to author and Seattle tree expert Arthur Lee Jacobsen. Danner also said plans are to replace the cherry trees with elms, which she said will require even more maintenance and watering than the trees currently along Pike Street.
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Danner also said she knows of no plans to transplant or otherwise save the trees for relocating elsewhere, even though Daniel Beekman of The Seattle Times recently reported a net loss of 255 acres of tree canopy in Seattle in the five years ending in 2021.
Save The Market Entrance is not interested in pursuing a legal strategy, but Danner said the Pike Street cherry trees mean a lot to countless people who won’t fully realize what’s been lost until the trees are gone for good, and springtime arrives downtown without the trees and their blossoms.
As long as the trees are still standing, Danner said her group won’t give up.
“What we really want is for Mayor Harrell to issue a ‘stay of execution,’” Danner said, “so that we can find alternatives — whether the trees can remain there or be re-gifted to a low-income neighborhood that would cherish them and honor them.
“We just need more time,” she said.
You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or a question about Northwest history, please email Feliks here.