Standing gracefully in the middle of Diablo Road is the town’s most iconic and beloved landmark, the Danville Old Oak Tree. The town’s official symbol is 65-feet tall and estimated to be 350-years-old.
Probably the most cherished event all year is the Lighting of the Old Oak Tree, held every November the Friday evening after Thanksgiving by the Town of Danville and the Danville Chamber of Commerce. An estimated 7,500 people gather around the tree to see Father Christmas and Snow Angel flip the switch on thousands of twinkling lights, to many “oohs” and “ahhs” from the crowd. There’s entertainment, refreshments, and holiday shopping amidst a decorated downtown. It’s been called a magical evening, and one of the best examples of community life in Danville.
The tree lighting event dates back to the 1970s, and according to historical records, actually started as a campaign to save the tree from being destroyed. Artist and then Danville merchant Carmen De Vivi, alarmed by piles of debris around the base of the tree during a road-widening project, discovered that the root system had been severely compromised. He approached officials suggesting a community-wide effort to preserve the tree, recommending they draw attention to the cause by lighting the tree with as many lights as possible. The idea was unanimously approved, and soon it was decided to light the tree every holiday season. De Vivi himself played Father Christmas for 15 years.
De Vivi wasn’t the only one to voice concern over the tree’s health. In the late 80s, after being told the tree was nearing the end of its life, the town planted a replacement oak just to the west nicknamed “Son of Oak”. A decade later an investigation found the tree’s root structure was rotting and the tree itself was in danger of toppling. In 2001 the town constructed a sturdy steel support structure around the tree.
Over the years the valley oak has served as an important communications hub. Banners announcing birthdays or anniversaries have appeared around the trunk, along with flyers for events around town.