Over the Hill

Trees and streets are fitting namesakes for Paso Robles

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx

Four weeks ago, I knew of two mature trees growing in city streets in Paso Robles. Now, I know of three.

On May 15, I wrote that a large live oak tree stands in the 400 block of Oak Street and that a truly huge live oak stands in Fifth Street, just west of Vine Street. Pavement surrounds each of them. Cars drive around both sides of them.  

Then I got an email from Carolyn Davis Reese. “You missed one,” she said. “There is still a very large tree on Locust and 16th (streets) next to the house I lived in.”

Carolyn’s parents were the late Al and Helen Davis. Al and I worked together on history projects. I’d been to their house, but I never noticed the tree. Maybe I was there after dark. Maybe the tree shaded Locust Street so darkly that I couldn’t see it.

So, a few days ago, I went to see it. It seemed bigger than the live oak on Oak Street. It shaded the houses on both sides of Locust Street. And like the oak on Oak Street, it also had two red, 18-inch-square warning reflectors, one facing north and one south.

The Paso Robles philosophy seems to be, “If it’s always been that way, and isn’t hurting anybody, then leave it alone.” I hope that philosophy continues.

There may be some other trees growing in other Paso Robles streets that I‘ve never seen. And there are probably such trees in other cities. I’d enjoy hearing about them.

But trees in streets seem particularly appropriate in Paso Robles. Our city’s official name is El Paso de Robles, which is often translated as The Pass of Oaks. So it seems fitting that oak trees would have the right of way on some Paso Robles streets.

Our city’s name may have been derived from Rancho El Paso de Robles. That was one of the wheat and sheep ranches belonging to Mission San Miguel. An adobe headquarters building for the rancho was built in 1813 about one mile south of present day Templeton.

I wish, however, that people didn’t translate El Paso de Robles as the “Pass” of Oaks. I’d rather hear “Path” of Oaks or “Passage” of Oaks.” When I hear the word “Pass” I think of a route over a high mountain range, such as the Tehachapi Pass, the Sonora Pass or the Carson Pass. The historic Spanish padres who travelled through the oaks around here were in a valley.

A University of California Press place-name book (1998) translates Paso de Robles as “passage of (the) oaks.” My paperback “Spanish-English Dictionary” says “Paso” can also mean “way” or “path.”

But I’m too ignorant of the Spanish language to say which translation is correct. I guess I just prefer the word “Path” because it’s short and makes more sense to me than “Pass.”