In Honor of Arbor Day: Meet Two Men Who Upcycle Fallen Trees

Traditionally, Arbor Day is about celebrating trees — from planting them to caring for them, it’s a day to appreciate what they represent: life. While we do this all the time — our almonds, coconuts, and other plants that contribute to our products are grown on trees — we considered who else in our community also takes this holiday to heart.

Turns out there’s an urban lumberyard called Angel City Lumber right in our backyard here in Downtown L.A., just over the Los Angeles River. While they’re not in the business of planting trees, they are contributing to the sustainability of them – a mission we're totally behind. So we walked over, bottles of cold brew in hand, to get to know our neighbors.

As we walked up to the building, it became apparent whose facility it was despite minimal signage. Out front sat a truck hitched to flatbed trailer carrying a freshly fallen ten-foot log. Up a short driveway, the smell of fresh wood hits you immediately, and in a few more steps, we saw logs stacked and labeled according to species and length. Charles and Jeff, the co-owners, welcomed us to Angel City Lumber HQ. We poured some cold brew and conversation flowed.

“ACL started in 2015,” Jeff led off. “We’re carpenters, furniture makers, Charles’ wife is a fine furniture maker...we were just around wood a lot.” As trees fall in Los Angeles, they’re typically picked up and turned into wood chips and/or buried. As a result, “we saw how many trees were being wasted and we asked ‘why are we doing that?’ It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Charles chimed in: “These are gorgeous resources, they’re ending up in the garbage, and I look at my wife and all of these people who make beautiful furniture out of exactly the same stuff that’s coming down, and it’s this ridiculous waste.” Local furniture designers and artists like Charles’ wife typically have to pay exorbitant amounts of money for wood transported from well outside of Los Angeles County while trees in their backyard are being chipped up and tossed out. Jeff and Charles saw a business opportunity with a positive, sustainable twist, and jumped on it. As they said, “it turns out our product is beautiful garbage.”

If it wasn’t for ACL and similar businesses, “these trees would end up as chips or buried and releasing a lot of [carbon dioxide]. Down the line, if this urban lumber movement can prove viable, I’d hope it affects city planning. That would keep resources in the local community, too.”

It would appear that rescuing trees from the wood chipper has been going well. It only takes one look around Jeff and Charles’ space to be struck by the volume of wood in their possession. But getting all of it to ACL first requires awareness, and they’re a two-man team. So how does that happen?

Charles divulged, “It’s been word of mouth mainly. That’s at least how it started. Originally, we were in touch with a guy who’s the recycling manager up in Burbank, and he was a big proponent of what we were doing and from there, word started to get out. Now, we’re driven by two things: clients who call us and say, ‘hey, I have a redwood tree coming down. Can you use it?’ Or a tree company who says, ‘hey, I’m going to take down a cedar tree. I don’t want to just chip it up. Do you guys want it?’ These people really don’t want to see these trees go to waste. Plus, they’d have to pay landfill fees, dump fees, take an hour or two to cut up the log, so we save them those costs. It behooves all parties for us to take these trees, and it really is a symbiotic relationship.”

Ultimately, the real costs are incurred by Angel City Lumber in processing these trees and turning them into slabs for use. Then another lies with the consumer when they’re eventually for sale. Effectively, Angel City Lumber saves multiple entities both time and money just by doing their job, which in turn provides a more cost-effective product to LA-area artists and makers. Not to mention, “local lumber” has a nice ring to it.

Every once in awhile, someone will donate a tree and ask for a piece of it. “Our general deal with people who donate trees is, after cutting it up and drying the wood, we like to give them one slab from their log. It keeps their connection to the tree, and it could be an heirloom piece that stays in their family for over 100 years,” which is the embodiment of staying true to your roots. The two intend to do this for as long as they can.

Speaking of long-term goals, they’re keeping it simple. “We don’t aspire to make furniture. We’re gonna partner with Offerman Wood Shop, and they’re going to do our building for us. We want to be a locally sourced lumber yard with a showroom, and we’ll do some custom jobs.”

One example of upcycling lumber is also one of Charles’ favorite projects: “We’ve been doing this thing with Mia Lehrer for the landscape architecture for Los Angeles’ new football stadium. To make room, they had to cut down a bunch of trees, and they brought them here. We made them into useable lumber and they’ll use it as a bench in the beer garden, so the tree will go from living there to getting cut down to [Angel City Lumber] and back to its origin, which is now a part of the stadium. It’s our way of honoring the tree rather than chipping or burying it.”

Projects like this, in addition to their standard business, get Charles and Jeff visibly excited. When we talked long-term results, you could almost see their imaginations run wild. “Someday, we can start counting tanks of gas that were saved because a truck didn’t have to bring in 2,000 board feet of oak, because we were able to provide it from the city of LA.” But for now, “our goal is to provide locally-sourced lumber that’s well-dried, and stable. A lot of places you go, the wood is still wet, they get it from dodgy sources, there are bugs in it. We want to do a better job and put a better face on what can be a bit of a gruff industry.” And suddenly, we were really glad we walked the .8 miles to our neighbor’s space to get to know them.

Thank you to Jeff and Charles at Angel City Lumber for your commitment to local lumber, upcycling what might otherwise be considered trash, and for opening up your space to us.

From all of us at Califia Farms, Happy Arbor Day! Now let’s all go appreciate trees.