A Century of Progress and Preservation

"I'll save those trees," reads the caption from a cartoon from the 1930 election for city council, in which the fate of trees became a major issue

“As sure as a growth ring will appear each year on a tree, a battle is sure to erupt every decade or two over the century-old trees that line El Camino Real in Burlingame”
San Francisco Chronicle (Jan. 24, 1997)

After the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, the population of Burlingame swelled from 200 to 1,000 as refugees fled to the safety of the suburbs. Just as the great estates of the previous generation were being subdivided into lots for individual homes, this influx of potential land buyers was welcomed.

Burlingame encouraged many of these temporary residents to stay for the long term, promoting Burlingame as a “sunshine suburb” with a pleasant climate. Marketing the city as a desirable suburb was paramount, and the beauty of the trees was part of that appeal.

But the trees whose appeal was so valuable to city boosters also posed problems for some of the citizens. Over the years, arguments against maintaining some of the trees—including public safety issues—have put them at the center of an ongoing community debate. In nearly every decade, a tree issue has flared up, and differences of opinion about the historic trees of Burlingame have spurred civic involvement and heated discussion about the proper balance between the progress of the city and the preservation of its history and natural beauty.