When storms swept through Oak Park on Tuesday, April 4, the devastation was powerful and quick. At Austin Gardens, numerous trees toppled to the ground. A few blocks away the Peter A. Beachy House, remodeled by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1906, lost two trees that were nearly as old as the house.
Homeowners Carollina Song and Alec Harris say a large catalpa tree fell on their roof, and a magnolia tree fell in the yard. They aren’t sure exactly how old the trees were but estimate that both were well over 100 years old. Harris says, “I think the catalpa was almost 130 years old. It may pre-date the house.”
Harris was home when the storm blew through, working in the room adjacent to the tree. “I was looking out my window and saw the tree fall. Boom, it happened so fast,” he says.
He ran from the room and checked on some painters who were working inside the house. While he wasn’t yet sure of the scale of the fall, he says, “Let me just say, when it fell, I let out some expletives.”
Song and Harris were at the tail end of a renovation process in which they were restoring the roof to its original clay tile. The project, which began over a year ago, involved reinforcing the roof and structures of the house to support over 30 pallets of tile that weighed in at 2,700 pounds each.
Song notes, “It could have been catastrophic damage if the work hadn’t been finished. I guess you could file this under things could always be worse?”
The weight of the tree cracked some tiles and lowered the roof but the couple say they were lucky the roof was not punctured. Worse than the damage to the new roof is the loss of trees that were important parts of their family.
Harris says, “Losing those trees, it feels like a small death. Our kids are mourning as well.”
“They’ve grown up with these trees.” Song says. Harris recalls numerous family photos taken in front of the magnolia and says that it wasn’t uncommon for neighbors to take photos in front of the tree.
Greer Haseman, who grew up on the block sent an email to the block lamenting the loss of a tree that she called “the queen of magnolias.” She wrote, “So many of us who grew up here had photos taken in front of her, with her. On the first day of school, Easter, prom or just because she was the most beautiful tree. While she was never mine, she was everyone’s to enjoy.”
Song and Harris are working with insurance adjustors and have called a landscape designer who can help them plot new plantings in their yard.
Song says, “We’re just at the start of the process. It’s hard because I don’t want new trees. I want those trees.”
Harris says, “The house looks naked without the trees. We know there need to be more trees for our yard.”
When the crew came to remove the trees, Song kept large sections of the catalpa. She has recently begun learning the art of woodworking and hopes to create some bowls from the tree that shaded their home for so many years.