THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON ALUMNI MAGAZINE
More than 116,000 cars a day cross the spot where the cherries were first planted: land that is now the approach to the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge east of Montlake Boulevard. The trees were originally set in a grove as part of the Washington Park Arboretum. (There are two of their "siblings" left where the westbound exit ramp meets Montlake, but they can only be seen from an alley.)
While its pre-war plantings aren't well documented, Arboretum Registrar Randall Hitchin located a 1939 purchase of 34 Yoshino cherries priced at $1.25 each. Based on the height of the purchased stock, Hitchin estimates they were three years old. That would make the trees 63 years old today.
During highway construction in the early '60s, the UW's architect at the time, Fred Mann, drove by the arboretum every morning on his way to work. "Any way we could save those trees, we wanted to do it. We thought it would be terrible if they were dug out and lost," he recalls. "President Charles Odegaard was very enthusiastic. After all, he drove by those trees himself every morning."
As Mann recalls, there were many obstacles to the idea. "The tree experts told us it was impossible. The trees were too old and you couldn't do it," he says. "There was no guarantee they would survive and it would be expensive."
The late Ernest Conrad, the UW's business and finance vice president, took care of the cost by persuading the state highway department for pay for the move. But the bidding process went slowly, Mann recalls, and by mid-December 1964, bulldozers were standing right next to the cherries. "They were ready to go," he says.
While arborists told the UW that the roots had to be balled up and the trees delicately replanted, there wasn't time. "Instead the nurserymen dug them up so that they had only bare roots. They piled them on flatbed trucks like so many pieces of brush," Mann says. Despite the warnings, "We didn't lose one tree," he says.
The 30 cherries were only a tenth of the trees moved that December, recalls Eric Hoyte, who was the UW landscape architect at that time. "We had more than 300 trees to move and they were scattered all over campus."
There has been some debate on who first suggested that the cherries go into the Quad. In a 1965 Arboretum Bulletin article, Hoyte wrote, "I was given the job of finding new locations for these trees, 30 or more of which were Japanese Yoshino cherries." But in a recent interview, when asked who came up with the idea, Hoyte replied, "I don't know."
In a 1987 letter to the UW faculty/staff newspaper, Business VP Conrad stated, "It was Fred Mann's suggestion that the cherry trees be located in the Liberal Arts Quadrangle, a suggestion strongly endorsed by President Odegaard."
Mann doesn't want the credit and says the issue can never be resolved. "We debated it. It's hard to know where the initial idea came from. Certainly Charles Odegaard and Ernie Conrad were very much a part of it."
While the decision to place them in the Quad was shared, the actual design of the planting was Hoyte's achievement. "The Quad was too large of a space compared with other spaces on campus," he says.
The stand of cherries could organize the space better and control some of the pedestrian traffic. Rather than just lining up the trees along the buildings, Hoyte chose to cut the Quad into two smaller spaces with a double row of trees planted about three-quarters of the way toward its southern end.
"The formal arrangement of these trees suggests an arcade or cloister, which seems very much in keeping with the Gothic architecture," he wrote in his 1965 article. "The idea was to try and make smaller spaces and make them more humane," he adds today. Contrary to one campus legend, the trees were not planted in the shape of a 'W.'
The cherries were severely pruned after transplanting, probably too much by today's standards. "Nobody knew whether they'd live or not. They looked like a bunch of dead sticks planted in the ground," Mann recalls.
But the next March, buds on the trees began to swell and later that month burst into bloom. "There was great glee over that," Mann remembers. "We did not lose one cherry."
President Emeritus Odegaard's office in Miller Hall overlooked the setting. After his retirement in 1973, he watched the cherries with proprietary interest. "Every year he would come in and look at those trees in bloom and tell us the story of how they were moved," says Maggie Patterson, assistant to the dean of education, whose desk was near Odegaard's office.
While the UW has a yearly maintenance schedule that includes spraying with fungicide and cleaning out dead wood and suckers, some trees still show signs of stress. A quick inspection will turn up fungal growth in the trunks of some cherries. Others have large cracks, where there may be damage to the tree's cambium, its highway for nutrients, Talley warns.
The life span of Prunus yedoensis is 60 to 100 years. Both Talley and Sisson think that the Quad's cherries are 50 to 60 years old, while Walker says they might even be slightly older. The UW doesn't have a solid date, because the Quad isn't the site of their original planting.
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