The portion of Rancho Santiago de Santa
Ana that became Tustin was covered with California Sycamore (Platanus
racemosa) trees. Although Columbus Tustin managed to save most of the trees
when he laid out Tustin City, today very few have survived.
I especially remember the sycamore trees that
grew on the playground at Tustin Primary School when I was a pupil there.
School children played in their shade for almost 50 years.
Intrigued by tales I had heard from my
mother, aunts and uncle of how they and their chums had climbed those trees
and gathered beneath their boughs, I could hardly wait to see if they were
still on the playground when I entered kindergarten in 1931. Although
twisted and bent with age, the magnificent trees were still there, providing
shade and a challenge to the imagination. Several had split so that their
huge limbs extended horizontally just a few feet off the ground.
These branches provided cozy roofs for the
imaginary rooms which were needed to play house, our favorite activity.
Cajoled by the more persuasive girls, some of the boys would join in our
games of pretend, enacting the roles of father, husband and brothers.
We needed little coaxing to join the boys in
their make-believe battles between cowboys and Indians. Indians danced
around the trees, chanting fierce war cries, until the cowboys arrived on
the scene routing the warriors with imaginary weapons and gunfire. “Bang,
bang, you’re dead,” then echoed loudly across the playground.
The trees also provided great hideouts during
the shootouts required in playing cops and robbers. Again, pretend guns and
simulated gunfire were essential to the game.
With a boost, the taller kids could shimmy up
onto the massive lower branches of the sycamores. Balancing carefully,
they’d creep all the way to the end before jumping off.
With girls wearing dresses and boys in pants, sometimes short ones, not
rugged jeans, our knees had little protection when we played on the trees.
Bruises and scrapes acquired in falls to the rough dirt playground surface
sent crying children to the school nurse for applications of Mercurochrome
or iodine and bandages at every recess.
After sheltering the Indians, welcoming the
Spanish, surviving the mission and rancho periods and enduring the
settlement of the area, the sycamore trees in Tustin began to disappear by
the early 1950s, destroyed by age, disease and new uses for the property.
However at least three sycamore trees thought to be part of the original
native trees still exist in the residential area.
All three trees are huge and can be seen from
the street even though they are in private gardens. Look for them the next
time you are passing 440 Pacific, 310 Pasadena or 320 West Main.