July 4, 1936 — (From left) Mrs. Lydia Minner, Barbara Sitzman (later Cook) and her mother, Mrs. Emma Sitzman, stand in front of the signal tree, aka marker tree,
at today's 24940 Pico Canyon Road, Stevenson Ranch. The view is roughly to the east. (Emma Sitzman's husband, Charles Sitzman, was superintendent of the Pico Oil Field. The family lived in the 13-room mansion
In the inscription on the back of the photo (below), Barbara Sitzman refers to this as "the four stump tree," and again in an audiotaped interview from December 20, 1996,
transcribed by local historian Stan Walker, she calls it the "four trunk oak tree."
The idea that it was a "four trunk" tree was ingrained in (local) people's minds because that is how "Ripley's Believe it Or Not!" described it in its July 28, 1930, feature,
complete with an artist's sketch showing four trunks.
But the sketch and the description were wrong. The tree had one trunk, as seen here; it split, perhaps giving the appearance of two separate trunks (visible from the opposite direction, not in this view). Two upper branches were
affixed to the ground by local indigenous people centuries ago as a directional marker, probably pointing the way to the Pico Springs, a source of asphaltum. Over time, one of the two tied-down branches fell away —
the one in the foreground/middle here.
When it was built in 2000, the Extended Stay America hotel was required to preserve the marker tree and another nearby heritage oak tree and work around them — which is why the hotel has
the has a footprint that accommodates a small oak grove.
Click image to enlarge.
SZ3603: 9600 dpi jpeg from original photograph. Also catalogued as 216-ms-0006-132.jpg. Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society collection.