Redwoods find new life after tunnel project

April 5, 2011 7:41:15 PM PDT
A couple of years ago, we did a story about the renovation of an old, collapsed railroad tunnel connecting San Rafael and Corte Madera. The project is finished now, but parts of that tunnel live on in some most unusual places.

For an old redwood tree, this home would be destiny. It has played out through the fifth business of a wife and mother who likes to decorate, and a husband and son who knew only that one day, without warning, a new Redwood wall materialized in the bedroom.

A surprise to anyone in Marin County who remembers old trains and the Cal Park Tunnel, which had its day, then its demise, and a couple of years ago its renovation as a new route for bikers and eventually smart trains.

You might recall how when work began two years ago, crews were astounded to find the inside walls and ceiling lined with 1,100 feet of precious, old growth Redwood timbers.

Just one problem.

"It was rotten, it was burnt, it was charred, split," says project manager David Bernardi.

And now that the project has finished, gone for good, or so we thought. As it turns out, 20 tons of the Redwood have survived in a few nice, neat piles thanks to Richard Atwood, who had been watching the project and recognized that some of the wood still had possibilities.

"I took a piece with me and sanded it down and saw how beautiful the material is," says Atwood.

So he bought a bunch from the contractor and put it up on Craigslist. Remarkably, it did not take long for those old boards from Marin's ancient trees to spread like seedlings throughout the county. One of the first buyers was a boutique in Mill Valley.

"It's here, it's this top bar, it's the whole store," says Mike Hall, who turned the Redwood for shelves and counters for his high-end jeans store.

But of all the projects, Ron Kunkle's project may be the most ambitious. He has waited his entire life to work with tight-grained, old growth Redwood like this. The history appeals to him.

"This particular Redwood has been drying for over 130 years," says Kunkle.

And been made all the more valuable because in Marin County, old growth Redwoods hardly exist anymore. Only a few remain. The rest have been transformed into cityscapes.

"As soon as I found out about it, I jumped right on it," says Kunkle.

With the goal of creating coffee tables, end tables, stools and all on sale in the furniture store he owns with his wife, Kim. The pieces range in price from $300 to $900; they have tight grain and knots in all their natural funkiness.

"You don't see it. We haven't seen anything like this," says Kim Kunkle.

All because Atwood spied a pile of junk around a 100-year old tunnel and recognized the treasure.

"It's more than just a tunnel," says Kunkle. "It's something you can sit on, it's something usable."

Their new destinies from a vanished forest for future generations.


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