Longtime Goleta historian Tom Modugno learned recently that a developer was looking to build four large homes on the ranch Ellwood Cooper established in the 1880s. Cooper was known for planting trees, including one of the tallest in Goleta — the Ellwood Queen — a lemon-scented gum tree from Australia. In this piece, Modugno expresses what the city has to lose if this development proceeds.
We all know Ellwood Cooper left his mark on the Goleta Valley, in a good way. He planted thousands of trees around our area and many of them still exist. But there is one tree that stands above them all, literally.
The Ellwood Queen is a prime specimen of a Lemon-Scented Gum tree planted by Mr. Cooper in 1887 on his gorgeous ranch in western Goleta. The Lemon-Scented Gum is a close relative of the Eucalyptus, one of Ellwood’s favorites, and many folks get them confused. Due to their regal beauty and their drought resistance, they became quite popular and were planted throughout California as an ornamental tree.
Its unique, pinkish-white bark is smooth to the touch and its long trunk can lift the tree to heights well over 100 feet. Pick a leaf, crush it between your fingers and you’ll notice a lemony smell, also, the sap the tree emits is quite sticky or gummy. So, it stands to reason, its common name is Lemon-Scented Gum Tree.
In the 1880’s, Ellwood brought many varieties of trees from all over the world to Goleta for a variety of reasons. He brought the Lemon-Scented Gum trees from Australia and planted this one in 1887. Today, this is the largest of its kind in California, measuring over 140 feet tall, a crown spread of over 95 feet, and a trunk almost 14 feet around. Early in the 1900’s it was crowned the “Ellwood Queen” and today, at 134 years old, she still stands tall and proud.
This early photo is from a U.S. Bureau of Forestry bulletin published in 1902. The caption notes that it was only 15 years old at that time! Quite remarkable how tall it had grown since it was just planted in 1887.
In 1921, the Doty family bought the Ellwood Ranch and the Queen watched as the next chapter unfolded. She can be seen towering in the overexposed background. The Doty’s would become excellent caretakers for the Queen.
In 1940, renown photographer Josef Muench came to Ellwood Ranch to photograph the Queen for a book by Maunsell Van Rensselaer called “Trees of Santa Barbara”. Van Rensselaer wrote it was, “the tallest known tree of any kind in this region”.
Donna Doty Lane provided us with this note card her father wrote that was clearly related to Van Rensselaer’s book, since it’s the same year and he quotes the same measurements.
In the late 1940’s a fire destroyed the old boarding house on the ranch and again, the Queen can be seen lurking in the background, luckily at a safe distance.
In 1956, Sunset magazine featured the Ellwood Queen in an article about exceptional California trees. The article offers a brief biography of Ellwood Cooper, directions to see the tree and this photo of the tree in 1956. The car may look outdated, but the Queen hasn’t changed a bit! She never goes out of style.
This colorized photo from the 1950’s was also sent to us by Donna Doty Lane. Clearly the Doty family appreciated the beauty and history of the Ellwood Queen, and their stewardship is a big part of why she still stands today.
In 2015, tree expert Randy Baldwin of San Marcos Growers and his associates measured the Ellwood Queen at 142 feet tall with an average canopy of 96 feet wide and 165 inches in girth. They had the tree listed on the California Big Tree Registry as a National Champion.
The red arrow shows where the Ellwood Queen has been growing for over a century, just inside the city limits and tucked between developments. Unfortunately it seems her luck may be running out. Rumors are swirling that a developer from Santa Ana has purchased the property and has plans to build four mini mansions. Technically, the Ellwood Queen is not protected, so he could easily decide to tear down this Champion Tree. We have contacted the city and spoken with multiple tree experts that all agree, this tree is worth saving. Hopefully, the new owner will listen to reason, and spare the Ellwood Queen.
Ellwood’s barn and other historic buildings are also on the property and they may be in danger of demolition as well. The good news is, a city permit is required to demolish any building older than 50 years. So that should slow them down a bit, we hope.
If you want to see the Ellwood Queen, please remember it is on PRIVATE PROPERTY. But you can see it from Ellwood Ridge Road, just take care not to block the road. And if you see bulldozers lining up, call the city, they have no permits yet. (805) 961-7500.
Besides the “Ellwood Queen”, there are several well-known and historic Lemon-Scented Gums in Santa Barbara. The “Fernald Eucalyptus,” standing on the east side of the 400 block of Santa Barbara Street, was saved by Pearl Chase when that block was being developed.
These Lemon-Scented Gum trees in front of the Santa Barbara Library have been designated historic landmarks by the city of Santa Barbara thanks to efforts by Bob Cunningham. There are more remarkable specimens in the 5 Points Shopping Center parking lot.
But the Ellwood Queen was planted by Ellwood Cooper, one of the forefathers of Goleta, and that makes it even more important to our history. We hope the Ellwood Queen will join the others as a protected tree for future generations to enjoy and learn about Goleta’s rich agricultural history.
This story first appeared at GoletaHistory.com. All images courtesy Tom Modugno / GoletaHistory.com / Sources: David Gress, Donna Doty Lane, Randy Baldwin, Ken Knight, Bob Cunningham