Utah Division of
Forestry, Fire & State Lands

Utah Department of Natural Resources

London Planetrees - Santa Clara

Click on photo for gallery.

Common Name London Planetree
Species Platanus x acerifolia
Address Santa Clara Drive, Santa Clara
City Santa Clara
Year Planted 1941-1949
Height Multiple Trees
DBH Diameter at Breast Height (DBH) is the standard forestry measurement of the tree's trunk diameter at 4.5 ft from the base.
Name of Nominator Brad Hays
Date Rated
Ownership Public

Santa Clara has a rich heritage in the mature London Plane Trees that line the Santa Clara Drive.

It didn't take long for the settlers of Santa Clara to realize the value of shade to cool down during the hot summer months. Early pioneers transplanted Fremont Cottonwood trees from the Santa Clara River because they were fast growing and readily available. The trees were planted on both sides of the Main . Street now known as Santa Clara Drive. However, the pioneers discovered when the cottonwood trees were mature they became weak and hazardous. This became crystal clear in August of 1939.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the worst gale force winds in Santa Clara history occurred on August 6. The twenty-minute gale shattered windows, lifted roofs, uprooted trees and disabled power lines. When the storm hit, Josephine Graf was pushing her granddaughter Loretta Frei Adams in a buggy down Santa Clara Drive south of the Church. They were suddenly overpowered by the storm so Josephine shielded her granddaughter. The wind ripped a large cottonwood branch from the tree above them breaking Josephine's neck. She gave her life to save her granddaughter.

The death of Josephine united the small community of 283 people to come together and make a plan to remove and replace the cottonwoods. The citizens decided to take out all the cottonwoods and replace them as they were removed with a strong fast growing tree that would provide safe shade for future generations. London Plane sycamore was the tree of choice because of its stature. The all-volunteer project commenced on the south end of town in the early 1940's. The community started the strenuous task of removing the old cottonwoods by axe and the stumps by hand. The new London Plane trees were trucked in from California by Sylvan Graf. Sylvan would haul cattle from the local area to Nevada and California and on his return trips he would bring home a load of trees from San Diego.

During that time, World War II started, taking 36 young men from the workforce to fight the war. The remaining community members continued the tree planting work. Don Graf, then 8 years old, recalls helping with the tree plantings. His job was to unload the heavy tree stakes and carry them to new tree locations. The removal and replacement by community volunteers like Don Graf took over 8 years to complete. Once the trees had been planted, Gordy Frei, Vernon Graf, and many others carried buckets of water to the trees for several years until they were old enough to survive from ground water.

In the days before Interstates and air conditioning, people traveling from San Diego to Salt Lake City tell the story of Santa Clara and her London Plane Main Street on old Highway 91. They tell of a cool desert oasis where the Highway is lined with giant shade trees and fresh fruit stands. They speak of a hardworking, friendly community that is proud of their heritage. Today, most of the volunteers who planted the trees have passed but the legacy of Santa Clara London Planes lives on for all to enjoy.

Author Brad Hays