For most folks, the phrase “treehouse war” conjures up childhood memories of slingshots, water balloons, and prepubescents with scraped knees getting all kinds of territorial.

The phrase takes on a different, more difficult meaning for Venice, Calif., resident Eileen Erickson, who was blindsided this past May when the city’s Department of Building and Safety served her with a two-page demolition order filled with "bureaucratic gibberish." She now faces steep fines and potential jail time if she does not raze and remove the code-breaking arboreal retreat that has stood on her property for more than a decade.

That’s right, Erickson’s stunning, secluded, and safe hideaway — in a blistering Los Angeles Times editorial and accompanying video, columnist Steve Lopez describes the Erickson treehouse as a “a bamboo masterpiece, caressed by pine and fig tree branches and featuring a basket and pulley to raise cookies, lemonade and other treats up to the shaded, treetop oasis” — was co-constructed 10 years ago by her late husband Sid for the enjoyment of the couple's grandchildren. And the structure wasn't just built as a tree fort for kids: the Ericksons frequently visited the treehouse for "romantic overnight stays," and Eileen Erickson has even hosted book club meetings in the hand-built structure. 

Sid Erickson, a Vietnam War veteran who suffered from neurological disease associated with Agent Orange exposure, passed away in 2010. The treehouse, designed and built by fellow Vietnam vet Jo Scheer in the style of elevated thatched "hooch" huts found in Vietnam and the tropics, stands as a literally towering tribute to Sid Erickson's life.

It's a piece of him.

"He was only 65. … That was a huge loss. Every time something else is taken away, that was part of him, it’s another loss," explains a devastated Erickson to KTLA.


So why is the city coming after Eileen Erickson now? What prompted the city to take action, given that the treehouse, beloved by the Erickson grandchildren and neighborhood kids alike, was erected a decade ago? Erickson believes it’s because she’s vocally spoken out against the development of McMansions in Venice and that the pro-McMansion camp has targeted her in a particularly cruel form of retribution:

Erickson has been speaking out against McMansionization of houses in Venice, and she suspects that one of the local mansionizers tried to get back at her by reporting the treehouse to City Hall. But Erickson was unaware that a permit was needed, and in fact had seen a Times story on treehouses that led her to believe hers was in compliance.
Like with any proper treehouse war, Erickson is not going down without a fight. A 450-signature strong petition has been circulating around Venice that urges city officials to allow Erickson to keep the treehouse. And after some frustrating delays, the office of Councilman Mike Bonin has also offered to help Erickson “navigate through the system" and "help close the gap between where you are and where you need to be…."

Erickson also has a staunch ally in the form of L.A. Times' Lopez who closes out his aforementioned column with a plea:

It's all a little unclear at the moment how things will end.

What is clear is that in a city with countless code violations and thousands of miles of ruptured sidewalks and bombed-out streets there ought to be smarter use of time and resources, and doing business with City Hall shouldn't always have to be such a nightmare.

Yeah, there may technically be a code violation here. But can't just one public servant somewhere in the machinery have the sense to say, ‘Hey, we've got better things to do than dig up 17 code violations on a few grandchildren having a lemonade and graham cracker party in a treehouse on their own property?’

Come on now. Am I asking too much?

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Leaf it be: Venice, Calif., treehouse under fire for code violations
A widowed L.A. homeowner battles to save a treehouse that has stood on her property for more than a decade.