November 12, 2018 | Lisa Nash
Walking under the shade of the beautiful Baywood Heritage Tree at the corner of Fifth and Dartmouth Avenues in Baywood, you might not know this beautiful, calming tree has a recent history as a rallying cry for many San Mateans.
The Baywood Heritage Tree, or “Lauraceae Umbellularia Californica,” is ~75 feet tall, 20 feet in circumference, and over 300 years old. It is the third oldest Bay tree in the Bay Area and the healthiest one (visit Sawyer Camp Trail to see the largest one). The Baywood Heritage Tree has been designated “San Mateo’s Number One Heritage Tree.” Bay trees only grow along the Oregon and California coasts, and are noted for their dense foliage, aroma and fruit that resemble small, bitter olives.
The 35,000 square foot Baywood Heritage Tree mini-park was dedicated at a big celebration in May 1979, presided over by Harold Brudno, then president of Baywood Owners’ Improvement Association (BOIA), San Mateo Mayor Jane Baker, and representatives of the many horticultural organizations and volunteers who worked together to save the tree and create a mini-park.
The celebration was the culmination of a 7-year effort to preserve the Tree and its surroundings as a public space. Originally part of a private lot slated to be developed as luxury condominiums, the tree was “the subject of a heated battle waged for several months to save the property from development.” While the owners said they wanted the tree preserved and the builder said he would make best efforts to do so, Baywood residents, and other citizens, were concerned and staged protests at City Council to save the tree.
Two Baywood residents, Mrs. Dorothi Grimsby and Mrs. Margaret Tagliafico, formed the Bay Tree League and launched the “Save-The-Bay-Tree Fund” to raise citizen funds to purchase the tree.
After a Council study session and many public meetings, the deed to the Baywood Heritage Tree was transferred to the City of San Mateo in October 1973. The acquisition cost was $141,887.26 The majority of the purchase price was financed by City funds.
Total citizen donations totaled about $7,500. Robert M. Desky, BOIA president at the time, noted that BOIA had contributed $1,356 toward the purchase. “This sum represents an allocation of a substantial portion of our basic dues as well as a surcharge requested by our directors to preserve…the tree.” Everyone who donated to BOIA’s Baywood Heritage Tree collection also received a reproduction of a specially commissioned etching of the tree by noted etcher and lithographer Alec Stern, a long-time resident who remembered picnicking under the tree when he was 16. You can see a reproduction of that etching above.
We are so lucky to have such a beautiful part of our history in our backyard. Take a walk soon to Fifth and Dartmouth Avenues and start your own happy history with our Baywood Heritage Tree!
A special thanks to the San Mateo Public Library for access to its historical archives for this article and to Margaret Nieman for her invaluable file of Baywood memorabilia.
 San Mateo Times, Dec. 19, 1972.
 San Mateo Times, Feb. 5, 1974.
 The Post, Oct. 3, 1973.
 San Mateo Times, May 17, 1979.