ASTORIA — A group of neighbors watched in tears as city workers chopped down a massive, century-old tree Monday morning.
Residents were devastated by the Parks Department's decision to cut down the towering American Elm that had been in the tree pit on 34th Street, just off 34th Avenue, for at least 100 years, residents said.
A department spokeswoman said the tree showed signs of decay and posed a potential safety hazard.
"That tree was just absolutely gorgeous and it's sickening to lose it," said Niki Patterson, who lives with her fiance, Ryan Dineen, across the street from the tree.
Dineen's family has owned their home on the block since it was built in 1923, and the tree was "big and beautiful" even back then, Patterson said.
The Parks Department did not know the exact age of the tree, but confirmed that it was more than 70 years old.
Residents were protective of the tree because it was one of the largest and oldest left on the block, and had long been considered a landmark. It turned green every spring and served as a nesting spot for blue jays, robins and other birds, they noted.
"We were proud having that tree. They describe our street like, 'Oh, the street with the big tree, with the beautiful tree,'" said Anna Jutis, who's lived on the block for 45 years.
"For me, it was a crime," she said of the removal.
The Parks Department said arborists examined the tree and determined it to be "structurally unsound," with signs of decay in its trunk and canopy, agency spokeswoman Tara Kiernan said.
Many limbs had suffered breaks and splits, and the tree had several hollow cavities, she added.
"Because of those defects, coupled with the fact that the tree had a significant lean, we made the decision to remove it in the interest of public safety," Kiernan said.
Neighbors said they were surprised by the decision because the tree had always appeared healthy.
"It bloomed more and more each year," Patterson said.