“What I remember best about the coral trees is in the old days before they were pruned so rigorously, they were so colorful in bloom that there would be a steady parade of cars–people coming to admire them,” said Mayor Nancy Gardner, whose family owned the home in the 300 block of Morning Canyon Road where the trees were removed. “With my parents’ house razed and a new one there and now the two trees gone, I have no real connection to Shorecliffs anymore.”
But Michael Toerge, a Corona del Mar Residents Association advisor, told the group at its October board meeting that the trees live on in Catalina Island thanks to a late-night escapade in the 1960s.
The story goes, Toerge said in an email, that Gared Smith, a prominent local architect, and Roger McKinnon, founder of Roger’s Gardens, were both active members of the Balboa Yacht Club, and they thought it would be nice to introduce some trees to the club’s recently acquired Catalina Island Station at White Cove.
“So, late one night in the early 1960’s after several rounds at the local club, they piled into Roger’s station wagon and drove over to Shore Cliffs where they proceeded to trim cuttings off the Coral Trees,” Toerge said in an email. “Now, according to Roger, these are not your run of the mill Coral trees, these are Erythrina caffra Coral trees know for their beautiful blossoms and rapid growth. Anyway, they placed the cuttings in tubs of water and loaded them onto Gared’s yacht, a DeFever 38 named Por Nada, and took them to Whites Cove on Catalina.”
McKinnon knew how to trim, fertilize and plant the cuttings, Toerge said — and the proof can be seen today, where four of the coral trees are “sincerely the most beautiful trees on the island.”
“They are regal, stately and a source of pride for Balboa Yacht Club members,” he said. “So, it is refreshing that these revered trees at the entrance to Shorecliffs, which were planted by Judge Robert Gardner, the father of Newport current Mayor Nancy Gardner, and recently removed due to disease, continue to live on in all their glory in an idealic setting on Catalina Island.”
Shore Cliffs’ coral trees were planted in the late 1940s. In 2009, a truck clipped a branch of one of the original trees on Seaward Road, damaging it beyond repair. Neighbors paid for a private arborist, hoping to spare the tree, but in the end, it was removed and replaced; read our story here.
Resident Patti Taketa owns the home where the trees were recently replaced. At first, she said, she was dismayed at losing them but didn’t want to have them fall and hurt someone or damage property; read our story here.
City staff not only replaced the tree but also damaged bushes and repaired irrigation and electrical systems that were affected when the trees were removed, she said.
Bottom photo of Catalina’s coral trees courtesy of Michael Toerge.