Del Mar resident gives dead Torrey pine new life as a piece of public art

A Torrey pine on the south end of Torrey Pines State Reserve is being turned into public art.
(Kristina Houck)

Thanks to a Del Mar resident, a dead Torrey pine is being transformed into a lively piece of public art.

“The tree had been there so long and had so much character,” David Arnold said in an interview. “I had to save it somehow.”

Arnold, who has lived in Del Mar for nearly 20 years, was driving down Highway 101 on his way to La Jolla last month when he saw a city crew cutting a Torrey pine on the south end of Torrey Pines State Reserve. The city was removing the tree because beetles had damaged it.

“It was astounding to see that they had it cut way down,” said Arnold, adding that weddings, parties and other events have been held under the tree, which has been rooted on a patch of land with an ocean view for decades. “I felt that the tree and its history needed to be saved.”

Arnold asked the crew to stop working for an hour, giving him time to make a few phone calls. He contacted city staff and received support to turn the stump into art.

An active member of the community, Arnold has previously served on Del Mar’s Design Review Board and helped design the city logo about five years ago. A longtime graphic designer and illustrator, he presented two clay models to the Parks and Recreation Committee, which unanimously selected one of the models Jan. 14.

Because the design resembled steps, however, city staff had concerns the sculpture would encourage climbing and be a liability. Therefore, Arnold revised the staircase-like design and turned the stump into a seat post.

“We want to create something that’s good,” said City Manager Scott Huth at the Feb. 2 council meeting. “It’s a benefit to the public and we’ll work with (Arnold) to try to create an environment that reduces the desire to climb all over it but still has a usefulness of how he’s trying to envision it.”

The Del Mar City Council unanimously approved the public art piece, with Councilman Terry Sinnott pointing out that the project is actually saving the city money.

“I think this is a great opportunity to use something that has been around for quite a while,” Sinnott said. “If we don’t do something with it we’d be grinding it up at a cost of quite a bit so this is kind of a little money-saving experiment.”

Arnold asked professional wood carver Tim Richards to help with the project. Richards has worked with a Torrey pine before, transforming a Torrey pine stump into a tiki head statue at Swami’s State Beach in Encinitas.

He began carving Arnold’s design Feb. 17 and expects to be finished in two weeks.

“I thought it would be a fun project,” said Richards, an Encinitas resident who has worked as a woodworking artist for six years. “It’s a beautiful place overlooking the ocean.”


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