Sedona CALLAHAN, Writer

 

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The Lone Cypress Tree

by Sedona Callahan

It's more than 200 years old, striated, supported by guy-wires, and growing out of a rock. On close inspection, it appears spindly, with graying wood and looks to be not long for this world. Yet, the Lone Cypress Tree, jutting out of rock along the 17-Mile Drive, on the coast of Pebble Beach, is considered to be one of the most recognized and beloved landmarks in California.

John Fossen of Carmel drives along the 17-Mile Drive several times a week, and always stops to look at The Lone CypressTree. ``It has a lot of historical significance,'' says Fossen. ``That magnificent, rugged, beautiful tree is a sentinel, and with the backdrop of Point Lobos, well, it's fantastic.''

Cynthia Gibson of Pleasanton, who has come to view the Lone Cypress Tree every year since 1965, says, ``If you don't stop and look at the tree, you haven't seen the 17-Mile Drive. It's a symbol of the whole thing.''

Although Fossen, Gibson and the millions of other visitors who come to explore Monterey Peninsula's coastline, extol the beauty of the tree, as viewed from behind a fence built in 1981 to protect the exposed roots and reduce erosion damage, Pebble Beach ecologist, Ross Hunter, describes it less favorably in horticultural terms.

"It's not a very attractive tree, compared to the natural growth of the Monterey Cypress, which is upright and cone-shaped,'' says Hunter, pointing out its difference from those found on the inland side of the 17-Mile Drive. The Lone Cypress Tree has been affected by weather and winds up to sixty and seventy mile-per-hour winds, while other trees have fallen. The weather and soil have caused it to be stunted in growth. Where usually a Monterey Cypress stands 75 to 80 feet tall, the Lone Cypress Tree is only 25 feet tall. In addition, the rock the Lone Cypress Tree grows in limits the spread of the roots, which in turn, limits the canopy size. ``We give it potash and phosphorous to strengthen its roots, but nothing for the canopy. If it had gotten larger, it probably wouldn't be there now. But to me, it represents strength and how you can endure a lot if you have a strong foundation. In those terms, it's beautiful,'' Hunter says.
The Lone Cypress Tree is one of the many Monterey Cypress (cuppresus macrocarpa) trees native to the Del Monte Forest area, defined by the headlands of the Carmel River to the north and Point Lobos to the south. Sandy Lydon, author of ``Chinese Gold: the Chinese in the Monterey Bay Region'' has stated that the Monterey Cypress may have been brought to the California coast from China by a fifth-century Buddhist monk, Hui-Shen. The account cannot be historically corroborated, although substantial evidence exists that supports the strong possibility of travel from China to pre-Colombian America.

Both the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Native Plant Society list the Monterey Cypress, a fast-growing tree which can live to 400 or more years inland, or 250 years on the coast, in rare or endangered categories. Neal Hotelling, Pebble Beach director of corporate affairs and archivist, describes the Lone Cypress Tree as being rarer still because ``it alone decided to spring forth from a jutting rock on the southwest shore of the Del Monte Forest.''

According to Gene Fryberger, manager of the environmental education department at Pebble Beach, company ecologists tried to groom a replacement for the unique tree about four years ago, by planting two saplings near the Lone Cypress Tree. ``We put them along the coastline, but because of wind and lack of good soil, they didn't survive,'' says Fryberger. ``It would be hard to duplicate the Lone Cypress, because it has its own look and ambience.''

The first reported reference in the Monterey Cypress (newspaper) on January 19, 1889 was written by R. Fitch.``Rounding a short curve on the beach, we approach Cypress Point, the boldest headland on the peninsula of Monterey. Down almost to the water grows the cypress, and on the extreme point a solitary tree has sunk its roots in the crevices of the wave-washed rock, and defies the battle of the elements that rage about it during the storms of winter.''

Early pictures of the Del Monte Hotel show reference to the Lone Cypress Tree in the 1880s, ``The old Del Monte Hotel had a maze of cypress on the grounds,'' Hotelling says. ``Caddies supplemented their income by showing guests the way out of the maze."

``When the Pacific Improvement Company built the now famous 17-Mile Drive in the 1880s, it wrapped around the coastline, beginning and ending at the Hotel Del Monte,'' says Hotelling. ``When first called out as an attraction, it was called 'The Sentinel'. By the turn of the century, it became known as 'Midway Point', but over the years the distance and layout of the drive changed many times, thus making the midway designation meaningless.''

Samuel F .B. Morse, an early owner of the property, used the Lone Cypress Tree image on a variety of goods including golf clubs, stationary and annual reports. In 1973, the Del Monterey Property Company created a corporate logo, incorporating the Lone Cypress Tree image. Reinforcing the corporate connection to land, tree and ocean, they created the 'Stylized Wave', an artistic rendering that when reproduced in color includes a blue wave representing the ocean, and two green waves representing the rugged terrain, topped by the Lone Cypress Tree, which represents the tenacity and individualism of, not only the company, but its leader for fifty years, S. F. B. Morse. More often, the logo is produced in a single color, or silhouette.

In the 1980s, businesses began to appreciate the financial value of trademarks beyond just recognition. Federal registrations of trademarks were shown to add to an owner's rights in protecting a trademark from unauthorized use. Accordingly, Pebble Beach Company began registering many of its trademarks, including images of the Lone Cypress Tree. In so doing, the company was also able to demonstrate and record their first use of the Lone Cypress Tree as a trademark in 1919. The Pebble Beach Company, in a compilation of assets listed with the Monterey County Tax Assessor in 1992, valued the trademark logo and goodwill intangibles, which include the Lone Cypress Tree, at $100 million. ``People can take photos of the tree,'' says Hotelling, ``but they can't use them for commercial or promotional purposes. The only other business licensed to use the Lone Cypress Tree as a logo is the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce.''

Maintaining a live trademark is not without its challenges. On one particularly stormy night in the 1940s, S. F. B. Morse awoke. Concerned about the valued tree, he drove down to the point, only to find another key executive already there standing watch. In 1984, Mrs. Frances Larkey, who lived near the tree, saved it from irreparable damage by calling the fire department, when the tree had been set on fire by arsonists. ``There's a kind of lift or exhilaration you get from just looking at the tree on that impressive rock,'' said the late Mrs. Larkey.

"The impact of the loss of the tree is inestimable,'' says Hotelling. ``Someday it will be gone, just like the Ostrich Tree, which went down in the early part of the century, the Ghost Tree, and the Witch Tree, (referring to 17-Mile Drive coastal trees that have fallen), but we'll protect it as long as possible."

'It's a scenic beauty,'' Hotelling adds, ``horticulturally sound or not.''