Palo Alto's iconic El Palo Alto tree has been sprayed with graffiti by one or more vandals, who also left alcohol containers and other litter on the ground next to the famous coast redwood.
The city's namesake tree, which is estimated to be about 1,070 years old, had black, white and green graffiti on the western side of its trunk on Thursday afternoon. The railing separating El Palo Alto Park, where the tree stands, from the adjacent Caltrain tracks was also covered in white graffiti.
Most of the graffiti was illegible, though the words "nail-gun" were sprayed on El Palo Alto's trunk. An empty malt-liquor can and a malt-liquor bottle were lying on the ground next to the tree, along with rags and other small items of debris.
The tree, which is considered by many to be the main symbol of Palo Alto, is located near the intersection of Alma Street, El Camino Real and Palo Alto Avenue. In 1968, California designated El Palo Alto as a California Historical Landmark No. 2.
The tree, whose name means "the tall stick" in Spanish, has also been designated "Point of Historical Interest" by Santa Clara County. The National Arborist Association and International Society of Arboriculture recognized El Palo Alto as historically significant because it served as a campsite for the Portola Expedition Party of 1769.
Dave Dockter, the city's managing arborist in the Planning Department, called the vandalism of El Palo Alto "unsettling" and "destructive," even by vandals' standards. He called El Palo Alto a "destination tree" that routinely attracts visitors from outside the city, the state and the country.
"It's just unsettling that someone would vandalize a piece of history like that, in a way that's irrevocably damaging," he said.
Dockter, who saw the damage on Thursday afternoon, said the city's best course of action could be to spray some brown paint on the tree to mask the graffiti. He said he would not recommend more drastic actions, such as removing the vandalized sections of the tree's bark, because bark serves as a protective layer for the tree.
"Whatever fix is chosen should, first of all, do no harm," Dockter said.