The hang tree’s leaves twinkled
as merrily as those of other
trees; its massed foliage held
the same sunny gleams and
cool shadows; it crooned the
same lullabies when the breeze
stirred its branches. But men
who admired its beauty, crossed
the street to avoid walking
beneath its haunted shade.
—Walter Noble Burns,
The Robin Hood of El Dorado
introduction
Searching for California’s
Hang Trees
slow circles
I exited Union Station in downtown Los Angeles and began walking south. I
was traveling to the intersection of Alameda and Aliso streets—barely a block
away. To get there I would have to take one of several streets that extended
over the freeway. This particular stretch of freeway had been carved out of
one of the oldest parts of the city when urban planners decided that running a
multilane highway through a few blocks of crumbling adobe buildings could
serve two purposes: lead visitors through town and shield them from an un-
sightly past. But like an old wound, it still scars the landscape, forming an
artificial barrier between Los Angeles’s raucous past and its sprawling present.
Eighteen-wheelers hummed and hissed their way through the slow traf-
fic below me—modern day woolly mammoths trapped in rush hour tar pits.
Once across the freeway, I realized that I was standing at the very intersection
I had been searching for. I walked in slow circles and squinted helplessly at
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