The Mission’s annual Dia de los Muertos procession was not held this year, and the Mission Cultural Center only did a virtual gathering and tours. But there was a small daytime procession, a ceremonia if you will, for some that will not be of this earth for much longer. There are 33 ficus trees on 24th Street set to be cut down and removed soon by city order, as the Examiner reported in July, after a compromise deal was forged at the Board of Appeals. The trees that have been given the death sentence, though — after years of neighborhood outcry about losing them — were given a solid spiritual send-off with a Day of the Dead-tinged sendoff on Monday.
Not all of the 24th Street ficus trees are being chopped down, thanks to the compromise. The original plan was to axe 77 of the trees that create a picturesque canopy over the corridor, whereas now only 33 are set to be removed. But those on the chopping block got the proper memoriam seen above, to give a fond farewell to these “rooted ones.”
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Funeral for the 24th Street Trees. Breaks my heart to see them go, but saying thank you and goodbye made it a little easier. <a href="https://t.co/mmWG1KSNRn">pic.twitter.com/mmWG1KSNRn</a></p>— Shalzvillez ✨ (@Shalaco) <a href="https://twitter.com/Shalaco/status/1323396004557717506?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">November 2, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
“We enjoy your shade,” the ceremony's leader announced to the trees. “When the trees were burning in the northern counties, you stopped the ashes from coming down on us. You give us oxygen, and we acknowledge that. We know you give us life.”
Like 24th Street itself, these ficus trees planted in the 1970s have been, well, a two-way street. They are pretty and they do provide shade on the sunny corridor, but the unique nature of ficus trees has led to cracked sidewalks and tripping hazards. Mission Local called them a “ticking tree bomb” in 2018, detailing sidewalk damage and cracks in the floors of 24th Street businesses, and this Imgur photoset from February 2019 shows how they also posed a real risk during heavy winds, with limbs that become increasingly unstable as they age.
Still, those trees have been there nearly 50 years, and most of us have never known a 24th Street without them.
“It's heartbreaking to see the trees go, but saying goodbye made it a little easier,” activist Shalaco tells Hoodline, after spending months advocating for keeping the trees standing. “We are losing another piece of the soul of San Francisco. Iconic beauty compromised for practicality. I wish we as a city we were willing to sustainably invest in treasured icons like this. With proper maintenance this would have been a different story. I hope they take care of the new trees.”
Those new trees, according to the Examiner, will be “50 red maple and ginkgo trees on 24th Street, and an additional 95 trees in the neighboring blocks.”