When Elizabeth Dean, the only heir of a prosperous Main St. merchant, died in 1964, the city was stunned to find that she had left all her money–$1.7 million–to create a fund “to be used to repair, maintain and replace trees on city property in the City of Ann Arbor perpetually.” The first thing the city did, in 1965, was to build forty-six raised planters on three then-treeless blocks of Main St. It planted lindens in the middle of each block and honey locusts in the larger “bump-outs” at the corners.
Life is hard for street trees, and over the past fifty years a number of the original trees in what’s now called the Elizabeth Dean Promenade have died, with the Dean Fund paying for replacements. Four new trees went in this past fall. “A couple trees had died, and a couple were dying,” explains Kerry Gray, the city’s urban forestry planning and natural resource coordinator, “and we thought it would be a good time to replace all four.” A honey locust was replaced between Liberty and Washington, and three lindens between Liberty and William were replaced by gingkoes.
Gray says that though lindens have glorious fall colors, they couldn’t take “the stresses of the downtown area, including the warmer temperatures, air pollution, and salt.” They started dying about ten years ago, and the city picked the gingkoes–a 270-million-year-old variety that no longer exists in the wild but survived in cultivation in China–to replace them.
“We were looking for something that could do well in the restricted space of the planting pit, could tolerate air pollution, and had similar fall colors,” Gray explains. “As the lindens die, we’ll put in gingkoes to maintain symmetry.”