DID YOU KNOW that you could once buy ancient giant sequoia trees — with a building lot included?
At least that was the pitch in advertisements for a development known as Sequoia Crest back in the 1960s.
Here’s an example of “news items” that appeared in real estate sections of newspapers, this one from the Los Angeles Times, Oct. 18, 1964:
Only 40 Trees Left for Sale at Project
SEQUOIA CREST — Only 40 giant trees are left in the own-a-redwood sale by Louis Leppelman, president of Visalia Homes in Visalia, who put hundreds of trees in a subdivision up for sale earlier this year.
The trees are located in the mountain community of Sequoia Crest, six miles north of Camp Nelson on Highway 190. The community has a grocery store, other services and 20 permanent cabins at an altitude of 6,500 ft.
Many of the trees offered are 1,000 to 2,000 years old, Leppelman said. There also are some young redwoods, 15 ft to 25 ft. tall, about 30 years old.
Of course, the truth was that a tract of land including old growth giant sequoia trees was subdivided and purchase of the building lots included whatever happened to be growing on it — in this case, giant sequoia trees.
Leppelman got a lot of mileage out of his promotion. Related articles appeared in dozens of newspapers in California and across the country.
Sequoia Crest is located about 24 miles northeast of Springville, California. The tract of land was surrounded by Sequoia National Forest when the subdivision took place and today is surrounded by Giant Sequoia National Monument.
The Rouch family subdivided the property — Leppelman handled sales for a time. It happens that I knew Claud “Sonny” Rouch, who died in 2012 at the age of 92. The giant sequoias growing on Rouch property included the Amos Alonzo Stagg Tree, believed to be the fifth largest tree in the world. You can learn more about Sonny, who was a history buff and loved giant sequoias, online at Sonny’s Redwoods.
Part of the Rouch property was subdivided to become the small community of Sequoia Crest. Many of the homes there were destroyed in the 2020 Castle Fire. According to the Los Angeles Times, about a third of 104 houses were lost to the fire. Also lost were many of the big trees that Leppelman “sold” back in the 1960s.
Before the fire, in December 2019, Save the Redwoods League completed purchase of what it said was the largest remaining privately owned giant sequoia property in the world, the Rouch family’s remaining land in the area of the Alder Creek Giant Sequoia Grove, including the Stagg tree.
According to the news release put out by the organization in January 2020, “the purchase of Alder Creek, which was finalized on December 31, 2019, was made possible thanks to more than 8,500 donors from all 50 states and around the world who made gifts to acquire the property for $15.65 million.”
Barely nine months later, a lightning strike on the Golden Trout Wilderness, east of Sequoia Crest ignited the Castle Fire. Along with the Shotgun Fire, it became known as the SQF Complex fire and burned from August to December 2020, encompassing more than 174,000 acres.
Scientists are still studying the fire and its impact on giant sequoias. When the above-referenced LA Times article was published in mid-November 2020, an estimate was that the Castle Fire might have killed 1,000 giant sequoias. More recent information suggests that somewhere between 7,500 and 10,600 large giant sequoias were killed by the Castle Fire, including many in the area of Alder Creek grove.
The Stagg tree and other monarchs — and some Sequoia Crest homes — are still standing.
Note: I wrote this “Perspective” column as part of the third issue of my newsletter, “Giant Sequoia News,” on Aug. 22, 2022. My intent at the time was to post items from my newsletter to this website, and vice versa (when appropriate). But I was busy with other things and now in January 2023 I am catching up on posting articles from the newsletter here if they are still viable. — Claudia Elliott