Late last year, the giant magnolia tree in the center of campus was cut down to make room for new buildings, part of a $40 million renovation of Renaissance High School for the Arts in downtown Long Beach.
The small high school was vacated over the summer to allow for demolition to start last fall to enlarge and modernize the campus. Renaissance High students are being housed at the Butler campus nearby.
Even though some of the old buildings at Renaissance will soon be gone, the tree, a beloved symbol of the school, will be preserved in part by having wood from its trunk used in a commemorative bench as a gift from the Class of 2017. It will be placed on the new campus when it reopens in 2018.
The idea to preserve the wood from the tree was conceived by senior Casey Hahn last year, and after a recent persuasive letter written by fellow senior William Evans, Superintendent Christopher J. Steinhauser authorized the plan.
"We brought the idea up to the senior class, and everyone was on board with it," said Evans, who hopes to attend Harvard University this fall. "The faculty has been supportive too, so we decided to make a formal request to the district to keep this part of campus history."
For decades, the tree has sheltered students from sun and rain, serving as a traditional meeting spot for campus gatherings. Each senior class had its photo taken in front of the tree.
The magnolia is believed to have been planted when the campus was first opened in 1898 as the first high school in Los Angeles County outside of the City of Los Angeles.
Over the years, the campus has been the site of several schools and after it was transformed into a visual and performing arts high school in 2004, quickly began posting some of the highest test scores in the school district.
The campus was completely rebuilt twice after it was destroyed by fire in 1918 and again by the Long Beach earthquake in 1933.
The current renovation project includes construction of a new performing arts building and physical education facilities, renovation of existing buildings, removal of portables and various accessibility and safety upgrades.
"We knew we couldn’t save the tree entirely, but it’s part of so many memories of students and alumni that we felt it could not just disappear," Evans said. "We hope to use the wood to create a symbol of the new Renaissance High School as a link to the long-standing tradition of the campus."