During the storm the old tree died, and Sunday the people came to mourn. It was as if a relative or close friend had passed away, suddenly, unexpectedly.
Onlookers stared in disbelief and some cried at the remains of the Lang Oak, seven stories high, believed to be 1,000 years old, the grandfather of the city's oaks. The tree toppled to its death Saturday night, a victim of pounding rains.
A botanical treasure lovingly preserved off the busy concrete strip of Ventura Boulevard in Encino, the tree in recent decades had escaped drought and a developer's plans to bulldoze it and, with the help of nearby residents, appeared to be fighting off a deadly bacterial infection. Over the course of a millennium, it had endured wildfires, earthquakes, floods and other disasters.
"In all the years, we felt this would not be the way it'd fall apart," said Bob Kennedy, the chief forester for the Los Angeles Public Works Department.
"We fought all that time to keep it, and now it goes because of nature," one woman said, weeping. Like many visitors Sunday, she took a small branch as a memento.
For 23 years, Kennedy cared for the tree, a California live oak that was declared a state historic and cultural monument in 1963. At one point Sunday, he stepped over yellow police crime scene tape separating the public from workers and was promptly encircled by the crowd.
"What are you going to do with it?" asked Dorothy Lombardo of Encino, an English transplant who for 20 years had brought visiting relatives and friends to marvel at old Lang.
"We're thinking about maybe leaving the whole buttress there as a monument," Kennedy said. "We don't know if we can do it because of the weight."
"How much does it weigh?" someone asked.
Kennedy laughed. Tons, he was sure. How many?
He was struggling with that question when someone else asked about the tree's age.
"Its age is estimated to be 1,000 years old," Kennedy said. "Now we'll know."
In the next week, he said, biologists will slice a piece of the trunk and count the tree's rings.
As he spoke, a team of workers, one in a cherry picker, used saws to hack away at the Lang Oak's branches. Tractors hauled off people-sized pieces.
Those chunks will go to storage, Kennedy said, to protect them from thieves while it's decided what to do with the tree's remains. Kennedy thinks some should go to schools. But all that will be figured out later, he said, "when things calm down."
Gazing Sunday at the tree, many people shook their heads in disbelief as they spoke about all it had been through within recent memory.
A developer wanted to bulldoze it in the 1950s to make way for Louise Avenue, but residents rallied and the road was built around the tree instead.
A car ran into it in the late 1980s, Kennedy said. The car was demolished, but the tree barely noticed. A little bark fell off, he said.
The oak became terribly sick in the early 1990s and residents feared the worst.
A campaign was launched to save it. After all, Encino was named for the oaks that once covered it. And Lang Oak--said to have been named after a rancher who once owned vast holdings--was the oldest.
A leading tree biologist was called to check the ailing oak and, following his recommendations, workers tore up a wood decking that used to cover the ground around the tree. They pruned the tree's branches, which spread to form a canopy 150 feet across, and secured them with cables to keep the trunk in balance. The massive oak was surrounded by a wrought-iron fence to keep people and cars at a distance.
"We didn't want any stone unturned to extend the life of this tree," Kennedy said.
It appeared that the Lang Oak had come back from the brink and was "holding its own," he said. Until Saturday night.
Punishing rains weighed down the oak's branches and softened the soil around its trunk. The combination made the tree too top-heavy to stand. It fell onto the northbound lanes of Louise Avenue, smashing onto two parked cars and narrowly missing an apartment building. The trunk was 24 feet in diameter.
On Sunday the saws whined. And a constant presence in the lives of so many people was no more.
Watching the work crews, Jim Newcom remembered looking at the tree for the first time when he was 4--in 1940. "It was staggering. It was the biggest thing I'd ever seen that was alive," he said Sunday.
"It's hard to believe it's gone," Newcom added. "But all the people who brought me here and showed me this are gone too."