OAKLAND -- People loved the 137-year eucalyptus tree that towered over Lake Merritt. But they love it even more since a wind storm last week knocked it on its side.
The fallen tree has become a playground, a gathering spot and quite possibly the most photographed object in Oakland. Most people pose in a pit where the base of the tree soars 20 feet above them.
"I took about six pictures and the people look so small," local resident Allen Duzak said. "It's like something in Yosemite had just fallen down."
On Friday morning all eyes were on the tree and several children were on top of it crawling around like ants.
"It's a tree jungle gym," Owain Wilde said after she climbed on the trunk with her 2-year-old son, Dashiell.
"It's awesome," said 8-year-old Ajeyei Bakari, as he emerged from the branches.
Bakari's friend, 9-year-old Jordon Chatmon, said the city should leave the tree alone. "This can be like a play structure," he said. "Just build on to what it already is."
The big eucalyptus stood 120 feet tall and weighed 92,000 pounds according to a data sheet city arborists tacked to its trunk.
Fortunately for the city, the tree fell in the best possible direction when it succumbed to sustained 45 mph winds the night of Nov. 21. It could have taken out the nearby Lake Chalet restaurant or landed across Lakeside Avenue. Instead, it fell along a grassy knoll near the lake. The only damage it caused was to a neighboring Magnolia tree.
Eucalyptus trees have short root systems that make them vulnerable to strong winds. The fire-prone Australian imports have a bad reputation in California, but residents around Lake Merritt said they will miss their eucalyptus.
"I really loved that tree," Duzak said. "I used to stand here just gazing at it. It was just so beautiful."
The big eucalyptus was among 200 trees blown over in Oakland by the Nov. 21 wind storm, Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney said. The city is aiming to clear all the trees by Friday, she added, but it might take longer to remove the eucalyptus because the job requires special equipment and the city is seeking to recycle most of the tree.
Gibson McElhaney represents the section of Lake Merritt where the tree fell and arrived the next day to find parents putting their children on top of the trunk.
She alerted city officials, who came out with caution tape and "danger signs," none of which has stopped the throngs.
"People really shouldn't be climbing on it," she said, while also acknowledging that the fallen tree had made the week for a lot of Oakland families.
"Maybe at future Thanksgivings they can talk about the year the giant eucalyptus tree came down."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435. Follow him at Twitter.com/Matthew_Artz.