This magnificent Ficus macrophylla, a species native to southeastern Australia, was among the first designated landmarks in Santa Monica due to its association with city founder Senator John P. Jones, because it is a living link to the city’s earliest days, and for its botanical value.
While the Miramar Moreton Bay Fig is estimated to be more than 120 years old, the facts of its planting are not entirely clear. Some accounts saw that Senator John P. Jones, who founded Santa Monica in 1875, planted it himself after his lavish home at the site (which he called “Miramar”) was completed in 1889. There is perhaps more evidence for a story that tells of a sailor from Australia who disembarked from his ship with the original sapling and offered it to a local bartender in lieu of payment for drinks. According to this explanation, the bartender then passed it on to Senator Jones’s wife, who directed her gardener to plant it. (This man may have been named MR. H.R. Lee.) The date the tree was planted is also unknown, but most agree it was probably not long after Jones’s Miramar was completed in February of 1889.
Whatever its precise origins, the tree is indisputably a living link to Santa Monica’s infancy as a city. When it was planted the area was sparsely settled and trees were rare. (The fact that the Santa Monica area had been used as a sheep ranch until 1875 meant that grasses predominated.) But just as settlers built homes and businesses, they planted trees. And as settlers cam from all over the world, so did the trees they planted. In a sense then, this grand old tree represents the diverse origins of the people who came here in the late nineteenth century and their desire to enrich and beautify their environment.
The original Miramar home was sold after Senator Jones’s death in 1912, later turned into a hotel, and finally demolished to be replaced with more modern hotel buildings. All the while this tree has continued to flourish. It is currently over 80′ tall with a crown approximately 120′ wide, making it one of the larger Moreton Bay Fig in Southern California. Today the tree has ample space in which to thrive in the serene setting of the Miramar Hotel’s attractively landscaped entranceway. Given its protected status, it may in time reach the 150′ spread that trees of this species are capable of.