Massive oak tree, widest in downtown Raleigh, will be removed

One of Raleigh’s tallest, oldest and most iconic symbols is soon to vanish: a 90-foot willow oak in Nash Square, a tree more than a century old.

The downtown oak has stood as long as 120 years, the widest tree downtown, its roots spilling onto Martin Street like love handles over tight pants.

Disease and old age make its removal necessary, said Zac Manor, a Raleigh urban forester. The oak — 85 inches in diameter — has already shed many of its thick limbs in recent storms.

“There’s too soon, there’s too late and there’s just right,” Manor said. “This tree has done a lot in the last 100 years. Our hope is we’re right in that sweet spot.”

Standing just opposite The Berkeley on Martin Street, the massive oak’s roots have long sprawled over the sidewalk. Its removal date is not yet certain, but Manor said it will likely go by crane in the next few weeks. Replanting there is possible, but not imminent.

Several people in City Hall described the oak Friday as the inspiration for Raleigh’s “Shimmer Wall” on the side of the Raleigh Convention Center, a mosaic of aluminum panels that form a shadowy oak.

But Jedidiah Gant, a designer on the project, disputed this, saying another tree from Oakwood Cemetery lost in the city’s 2011 tornado was the basis for that image. A memorial for that tree is in the works.

Raleigh Convention Center Shimmer Wall
The Raleigh Convention Center, at right, and the Shimmer Wall, seen Nov. 16, 2015 were designed by Clearscapes architecture firm. Chris Seward cseward@newsobserver.com
Josh Shaffer covers Wake County and federal courts. He has been a reporter for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.