World Famous Tree House.

World Famous Tree House

Field review by the editors.

Piercy, California

Enduring as a staple of vintage postcard collections, the "World Famous Tree House" is a tourist attraction in a gigantic redwood tree. The tree is over 250 ft. tall, approximately 4,000 years old, and contains a hollow, 50-ft. high cavity. The tree center was burned out by a lightning strike hundreds of years ago; several openings around the base provided human access. In the 1920s, an entrepreneur turned it into a room with doors and windows, and the still living "tree house" became one of the earliest tourist attractions in the area.

World Famous Tree House owl.

In 1925, Minnie Stoddard Lilley and her husband William bought a particular 55-acre parcel in the redwood forest because it included that tree, then named the "Fraternal Monarch." Construction began on the adjacent Redwood Highway in 1929. A contingent of convicts building the road actually bunked in the tree.

Completion of the highway led to a rise in tourism, so Minnie opened the first gift shop business as part of Lilley Redwood Park. Admission was free; the 27-ft. diameter room in the tree was used as the gift shop, jam-packed with redwood crafts and souvenirs. Postcards during that period referred to the tree as the "Quadruped Tree."

In the 1933, the odd attraction was proclaimed the World's Tallest Home in a widely syndicated Ripley's Believe It or Not cartoon. It soon evolved into the "World Famous Tree House." The notoriety has benefited the Tree ever since, with "Believe It Or Not!" displayed prominently on a sign jutting from the tree towards US 101.

World Famous Tree House.
World Famous Tree House.

Minnie Stoddard Lilley died in 1947. A marker was placed by E Clampus Vitus in 2016, across from Confusion Hill, marking her grave and mausoleum.

Subsequent owners kept the World Famous Tree House open through the decades. The gift shop shifted to an attached building. On an early Roadside America trip, we were told the light bulb hanging overhead hadn't been changed for 30 years. At some point, the main entrance to the tree was closed and routed to enter via the gift shop.

World Famous Tree House owner shows us a popular gift item.
World Famous Tree House owner shows us a popular gift item.

A couple bought the business in 2000 -- basically a gift shop with a tourist gimmick, and sold souvenirs and local carvings. They charged a small admission fee to enter the Tree House. In recent years, business hours had become irregular, indicated when the neon "OPEN" sign hanging on the World Famous Tree House was turned on. We stopped in 2016, parking along the deep road shoulder. Chainsaw sculptures were arrayed along the frontage, and there was a designated "Chainsaw Carving" area, presumably for live demonstrations.

The Tree House room delivered a sense of timeless roadside appeal, illuminated by a single dangling light bulb (maybe the same one still??). The walls were decorated with signs, pictures of redwoods, and a mangy taxidermy owl on a perch.

On a road trip in the region in December 2017, we were advised by workers at three separate redwood attractions that the World Famous Tree House had been shut down, probably for years. However, we noticed on our return leg that the OPEN sign was once again lit. The current owner was at the cash register, and told us her husband passed away in February. Continuing the trials of 2017, she said record rains and rock slides closed parts of US 101, cutting the normal flow of potential customers. She assured us she wasn't selling the place quite yet, and intended to offer regular hours for the coming summer.

Also see: Big Tree Drive-Thru

World Famous Tree House

Address:
74800 N. Hwy 101, Piercy, CA
Directions:
On the west side of US 101 roughly midway between Piercy and Leggett.
Hours:
Mostly open in summer if at all. (Call to verify)
Phone:
707-925-6406
Admission:
Admission
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Confusion HillConfusion Hill, Piercy, CA - < 1 mi.
Chandelier Drive-Thru TreeChandelier Drive-Thru Tree, Leggett, CA - 5 mi.
Famous One Log HouseFamous One Log House, Garberville, CA - 7 mi.
In the region:
Carved Indian Chief, Laytonville, CA - 22 mi.

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May 25, 2019

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