SAUGUS — Mother Nature apparently has it in for the Big Oaks Lodge in Bouquet Canyon. A mammoth oak tree crashed onto the roof of the rural landmark this week--the latest in a string of natural disasters that have plagued the colorful, turn-of-the century bar and restaurant in recent years.
The five-story oak toppled at about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, a mighty cr-r-rack its only warning to the bartender and the three customers inside.
Foot-thick limbs came crashing down into the newly remodeled second-story, splitting the fresh wood and crushing a roof-top corner overlooking the lodge's outdoor picnic tables. The falling tree uprooted concrete from the surrounding patio and pried boards from the building's exterior.
"It didn't even break the downstairs window," said a surprised Dee White, owner of the lodge, which has rebounded from fires, floods, earthquakes--and other falling trees. "We finished (remodeling the second floor) about three days ago. We just ordered the windows."
Flames scorched the lodge in January, 1990, causing $150,000 in damage and shutting it down for four months. Heavy rains flooded a Bouquet Canyon Road bridge, closing the road to the restaurant from January through April of 1993.
Though the building was not damaged, preoccupied customers disappeared again following the Northridge earthquake in January.
"It just seems like a Mother Nature attack," said White, surveying the tree still leaning against the lodge Wednesday. "It's just heart-wrenching."
Fortunately, there have been bright spots among the disasters.
No one was hurt Tuesday, despite the area beneath the tree being filled with people at that time of day the two evenings before it fell.
The lodge, high in the mountains above the Santa Clarita Valley, is a popular landmark for rural travelers, and in recent years has served as a training site for heavyweight boxing contenders, including Michael Dokes and Tony Tubbs.
The dining room, built in 1929 and evolving from a collection of nine lodges that predate the area's written history and local memories, remains undamaged.
Other centuries-old oaks ring the lodge's patio, survivors of the nearly dozen trees that used to shade the area. The oak that fell Tuesday was the fourth to topple over, but the first to strike the lodge. One fell seven years ago; a second toppled over in 1992 and another fell last year.
"They all started together. Maybe they're all going to die together," White said.
That's likely, according to Ray Miramontez, arborist for the nearby city of Santa Clarita.
Forest trees often have connecting roots, making them prone to sharing diseases, Miramontez said. Oaks also are sensitive to any disruption of their environment, such as a break in their water supply or soil nutrients caused by construction in the area.
"They're very sensitive to change," said Miramontez. "It's not uncommon that an oak tree that would've lived to 400 or 500 has its life cut in half by (nearby) development."
Oak tree damage is often not immediately detectable, sometimes appearing 15 years from when a problem actually begins, Miramontez said,
White said she is unsure if her insurance will cover this latest act of God. She hopes to reopen the lodge today.