Mr. Sign Hill

American Forests, March-April 1991 | Go to article overview

Mr. Sign Hill


Alphonse Seubert has a dream. Thirty-three years ago Al Seubert began planting trees on a bald, bone-dry hill in South San Francisco. Today, at 74, he's planted more than 25,000 seedlings and seen many of them die from fire and vandalism. But he's not giving up. No, sir.

The retired pharmacist explains, "My sons used to say to me, Dad, you've got to give up. You're not going to make it.' I'd say, 'I'm going to plant a forest up there if I have to live to be 100 years old.' "

Put your money on Al Seubert.

He started planting in 1957, inspired by South San Francisco's director of parks and recreation, who envisioned a park on Sign Hill. The park is named for the 60-foot concrete letters that spell out, "South San Francisco, the Industrial City" on the hill's sheer face.

Helped by his Boy Scout troop, Seubert planted the first 2,000 trees. One year he kept track. He put in 122 black pine, 38 redwoods, 91 eucalyptus, 108 buckeye, 63 coast live oak, 313 Monterey pine, and assorted others-748 trees all told. Multiply that by 33 years.

In 1973 a grateful city named him Citizen of the Year, and two years ago it gave him a green jacket emblazoned on the back with the words, "Mister Sign Hill. "

He grew many of the seedlings in his own backyard. He and his four sons would cram them in the family stationwagon and drive up the hill until the road ended, then carry them up a long climb. During the hot, dry summers, he would fill 80 plastic gallon jugs and tote them, six at a time, over the steep hillsides to give each seedling a half gallon of water.

Eventually the city built three switchback trails up the mountain and provided 700 feet worth of hoses that he drags over the mountain in lieu of the jugs. …

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