by John Ramos

BERKELEY (KPIX) — One of the oldest living residents in Berkeley has died. Neighbors are sad but some are angry and say it didn’t have to happen.

No one is sure how long the Italian Stone Pine tree on Russell Street in Berkeley has been there. Some say it’s been more than 125 years.

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It was here when streetcars began taking people up the road to the then-brand-new Claremont Hotel. Now, its owners say the tree is dead and will have to be removed.

“It was pretty quick. So, it was about four or five months ago we noticed needles were turning brown,” said Delilah Raybee, who owns the property.

Last week, the homeowners posted signs letting the neighborhood know and encouraged them to write their thoughts. They even held a small gathering on Thursday night to mark the tree’s passing.

“This tree has been here a lot longer than I have and unfortunately, it won’t be here as long as I will,” said Gardner Combs.

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Mixed in with the sorrow is anger. Some accuse the homeowners — who moved here four years ago — of killing the tree by severing its roots to accomodate a retaining wall and otherwise abusing it during a home renovation.

“They piled a bunch of junk and dirt on the tree for a long time,” said Pete Englehart. “It was at least a month and that was enough — arborists were saying that was enough to do it.”

The homeowners say they believe the tree was simply at the end of its life span.

(Delilah) “You know, it’s very tough for people who’ve grown up in the neighborhood … it’s like a neighbor for them,” Raybee mused. “Some people are upset, that’s understandable but, you know … try not to take it personally, I guess.”

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The homeowners say they will replant, though probably not another Italian Stone Pine.