If you think you know everything about downtown Seaside, try looking up. See if you can spot two trees in the city center that don’t quite belong.
One of the cypress trees stands about 30 feet tall in front of the Seaside Historical Society Museum (at 5th Avenue, along the Necanicum River). Its mother tree is about a mile south, outside the Bank of the Pacific building (one block west of Highway 101 at Avenue G).
Cypress trees are not native to the Seaside area, as they are to parts of Southwest Oregon, near the California border. Under ideal conditions, they can live about 300 years and grow to be about 165 feet tall. So how did these lonely cypress trees come to live in Seaside? It’s a mystery few people are privy to.
One of those people is Pam Fleming, a landscape contractor and designer who cares for Seaside’s pocket parks and city grounds. Fleming has long admired the tree and its fascinating story. “The old cypress tree, aka Monterey cypress [family cupressaceae, genus hesperocyparis], is a bit of a rarity in our area,” she says. “When you come across plantings of them, you are definitely aware of their majestic size and character. The Monterey cypress’ happy environment is listed as ‘cool moist summers, almost constantly bathed by sea fog.’ … I have often wondered who the ‘Johnny Cypress Seed’ tree planters were, but I am grateful for them and the legacy trees they left us with.”
Just who is that mystery Johnny Cypress Seed? Local history has it that it was Alan C. Batchelder, a former Seaside City Councilor who in 1990 rescued about 40 of the seedlings after the mother tree’s base was sprayed with weed killer. The weed killer had sent it into toxic shock and caused it to release many of its seeds.
Batchelder and his wife, Nancy Lee, planted the seedlings with care, noting that they had “a particular fondness for that magnificent parent cypress.” However, just three of the seedlings survived. That started a chain of adoptions to various parks in town that left just one tree surviving.
In 1995 the green thumb who gave that tree the TLC it needed was Paula Clark, known as the “story lady” at the Seaside Library. When her property was sold in 2001, the tree — about 10 feet tall — was donated to the city of Seaside. It moved three more times over the years, finally settling into its current home on Arbor Day in front of the museum, just a mile from its mother cypress at the bank. By all appearances, both trees are healthy and have a bright future ahead.
Check it out:
Find a brief history on a plaque and in an archived notebook at the Seaside Museum (570 Necanicum). Visit the museum when it reopens with limited hours in June with visitor upgrades. “We’ve done some revamping of the exhibit space so we can tell little stories like this better and change some things more often than we’ve been able to in the past,” says Steve Wright, board president of the museum. “Our whole focus is to get people to the museum and send them out to discover things, like this tree, on their own.”