For decades, the majestic valley oak stood tall, a silent sentry greeting all who entered and departed Los Altos Hills along one of the town’s most trafficked arteries. The slope of earth beneath the heavy boughs created an illusion of the trunk bowing to Moody Road as it shunned Old Snakey Road above. Gravity and powerful winds proved formidable foes, and the oak finally surrendered its burden June 7. The force of impact splintered limbs.

Open Space Committee chair-person Kit Gordon encountered a fellow mourner when she arrived on scene to inspect the damage.

“There was a young woman standing amongst the branches nearly in tears,” Gordon said during the committee’s June 9 meeting. “She said she drives by that tree every day, and she was totally heartbroken to see it fall.”

Photos Gordon shared of the fallen tree elicited melancholic “ohs” from the rest of the committee.

“I had a very similar tree in my backyard that toppled, and I thought it was going to continue to live, but it took several months before it finally got brown,” George Clifford said. “So I would say just looking at this, I don’t have a lot of hope for it.”

Per Los Altos Hills municipal code, the tree’s sizable girth likely granted it designation as a heritage oak tree, protecting it from removal 

and human-inflicted damage without prior approval of the city council. But a sleeping giant represented a fire hazard; the town maintenance crew reduced the oak to logs.

Since September 2016, the oak had sheltered a plaque commemorating Rex Gardiner, a celebrated founder of the town who died in 2015 at the age of 93. John Harpootlian, when he served as mayor, presided over the plaque installation ceremony.

“With our thanks and appreciation, we dedicate this open space to Rex Gardiner’s vision, determination and leadership and hope that all of us pre-sent and generations moving forward can cherish this space and the town that he helped to create that we call home,” Harpootlian said at the time.

Gardiner’s plaque will remain at the site, Gordon said. Eventually, it might be joined by a native tree or shrub.

For more information on Gardiner and the tree, visit town historian Jitze Couperus’ website at