A group calling itself the Berkeley Boys built an illegal treehouse in a towering pine tree in Tilden Park. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Forget the permits, zoning laws and fierce debates.

A group of Berkeley residents has gone rogue and built new housing — only it’s in a towering pine tree in Tilden Park and is facing demolition.

Built with scrap wood collected around Berkeley, the treehouse is nestled in a secluded, forested area off Grizzly Peak Boulevard, near a cell tower. The highest wooden platform in the branches is 60 feet up, according to the builders.

The construction crew, which calls itself the Berkeley Boys, was inspired by the treehouse in the movie Stand By Me. The builders began collecting materials in January for the ladder, and, using handsaws, impact drivers, a hammer and some rope, continued adding elements over the next several months.

They hoped to create “a unique and beautiful place for us all to hang out,” said one of the group’s members in a text message.

The member contacted Berkeleyside anonymously after learning authorities might have become privy to the creation. He shared an X-marks-the-spot style map and a dramatic video (below) depicting the construction process and predicting the treehouse’s demise.

With the mysterious materials in hand, Berkeleyside decided to search for the unauthorized structure and verify its existence. Sunday afternoon, after scouring Grizzly Peak, making a steep trek to an isolated grove, and obtaining a nasty scrape in the process, this reporter came upon the contraption. (She didn’t, however, dare climb up to the top.)

Dave Mason, a spokesman for the East Bay Regional Park District, confirmed that parks officials also became aware of a treehouse off Grizzly Peak about a week ago.

“This happens from time to time,” he said.

The geography up in those hills is confusing, however, and as of Friday, staff was still trying to figure out whether the treehouse was even in the park district’s jurisdiction, or whether it was on UC Berkeley or East Bay Municipal Utility District land, Mason said.

Either way, the treehouse’s days are numbered.

“It’s a non-native structure, so it’s subject to removal, as a lot of different things on parkland are,” Mason said. “Obviously, it’s a potential safety threat.”

And while Tilden is known for its array of family-friendly activities, parents will want to stick with the steam train or merry-go-round this summer. The treehouse is most easily accessed by a steep utility road closed to the public, or off-trail and through poison oak. It’s located just down the way from a shed covered in colorful graffiti and, on Sunday, there was a broken wine bottle and a couple of loose cigarette butts on the ground near the base of the tree.

Metal loops just barely jut out from the trunk, making for a treacherous climb up to the wooden abode.

YouTube video

But the Berkeley Boys described some blissful moments spent up in those branches.

“Working at the top of the tremendous pine was intense,” wrote one in a text message. “When you’re up there, it’s an experience not enough people get to have. Wildlife in the canopy flutters by and lush moss patches blanket the tops of each branch.”

The builders decorated their treehouse with some hanging plants, using a basket they found on the street and some succulents taken from another hill in Tilden, he said.

“A few of the guys climbed up the cliffs, [harvesting] only what we needed and not anywhere near enough to hurt the ecosystem,” he said. “The native plants were amazing. They were so happy they started flowering. We never had to water because the misty mornings would always keep the soil damp.”

The project was an educational experience for all involved, said the anonymous builder.

“We all learned so much and bonded more as friends,” he said. “More kids should go out and build things. Maybe not illegal treehouses, but get kids outside and using their creative minds.”

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Natalie Orenstein

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...