After WWI, throughout California, memorials were erected to honor veterans. In Carpinteria, veterans were memorialized by planting six dozen coast live oak tree saplings near Serena Park, on both sides of what was, at the time, a two-lane highway. But sometime in the 1950s, the freeway was widened, and only the oaks on the southbound side were preserved. Over the years, some of the plaques identifying the “memorial oaks” were also removed, and today, less than half of the original oaks (34), now mature trees, remain.
With the Highway 101 projects approaching their start date to begin work on the Padaro Lane segment of the freeway—which will impact the current memorial trees—the question of how to continue to memorialize WWI veterans has come front and center.
In anticipation of adding a third lane to Highway 101 in each direction, Caltrans and SBCAG created a community focus group to determine how to minimize impacts of highway construction to the memorial and, moreover, to reestablish the prominence of the memorial. The focus group included members of Carpinteria Valley Historical Museum, Carpinteria Veterans Group, Carpinteria Valley Association, and county Planning & Public Works, Historic Landmarks Association, SBCAG and Caltrans.
In considering the health and viability of the remaining oaks, an outside arborist evaluated the trees and stated that they would have less than a 35% survival rate, limiting the likelihood that they could be replanted and continue to thrive, said Kirsten Ayars, a consultant for the Highway 101 project. Given the poor health of the trees, the group decided that Caltrans should grow new oak trees from acorns collected from the original memorial oaks, reestablishing the memorial oak area, from Serena Park to Loon Point, and continuing the spirit and heritage of the original monument.
Currently, 108 new oak trees are being grown from acorns from the original memorial oaks. The new oaks will be planted on both sides of the freeway and the remaining oaks along the southbound highway will also be preserved. The safety barrier between Loon Point and Serena Park will have a concrete memorial ribbon displaying oak tree leaves along with plaques. The project also includes memorial signage at points where the public can stop and read along Loon Point/Serena Park. “It’s been forgotten over the years, so it’s nice to bring it back,” noted Ayars.
Earlier this year, the memorial oaks project received permitting through the county of Santa Barbara. It will be installed as part of the multimodal highway construction project through the Padaro Lane neighborhood, expected to commence next summer and to be completed in 2024.