The towering, seemingly ancient cottonwood tree that has shaded the Sena Plaza (125 E Palace Ave.) in downtown Santa Fe for nearly a century is coming down.

Workers Tuesday began the process of removal after the tree was deemed a health hazard, says Christine McDonald, the manager for the property with Southwest Asset Management and representative of the property owner Gerald Peters.

McDonald estimates the tree is at least 84 years old, based on photographic records from 1935 that show a sapling growing in the approximate location of the tree.

An SFR file photo of shows the massive trunk next to a dining table.
An SFR file photo of shows the massive trunk next to a dining table. | SFR File Photo

The cottonwood "is an iconic part of historic Santa Fe," says Wendy Applebaum, one of several Santa Fe residents watching the removal with mournful expressions from the sidewalk adjacent to the roped off parking lot on Nusbaum Street.

The tree has been the source of an ongoing drama in recent years that began when a branch dropped on a diner at La Casa Sena restaurant in 2015, pinning her to the ground. Despite this, many residents loudly resisted taking it down. As a crane assisted in the process of removal just before lunch, a protester hopped the fence to the roped off parking lot and threw himself down at the base of the tree.

"The guy was totally belligerent," McDonald tells SFR, describing how the unidentified man began tugging at the ropes securing the workers in the tree's upper most branches and then took a swing at an employee who approached him. "It was really a dangerous situation, and we had to freeze the whole operation. One guy was stuck hanging onto a half-cut branch for 45 minutes before we could get him down," says McDonald, adding that the building owner decided to halt the process until safety can be guaranteed. That means it might take more than the initially predicted three days.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that an arrest was made but that the suspect was not identified, according to a police officer at the scene.

For those who are sad to see it go, fear not Santa Fe: the tree is getting second life as material for three groups of artists who requested pieces of the trunk.

Some of the wood will go to kachina artists from Zuni Pueblo and some will go to Pojoaque Pueblo as material for ceremonial drums. Other portions of the trunk are heading to a Spanish wood carver and regular vendor at the Spanish Market, said McDonald. She did not immediately provide the names.

Property owners say the project is likely to take more than three days.
Property owners say the project is likely to take more than three days. | Katherine Lewin