I don’t remember the first time I saw the four-story treehouse on Walters Road. It was probably in the mid-1970s, because part of the bus route to Grange Intermediate School was on the then two-lane road.
I do recall quite clearly, however, the first time I got to go inside the treehouse. It was in 1982, when I was taking a sociology class at Solano Community College taught by the treehouse’s builder/owner, Glen Gaviglio.
He would often invite us to treehouse parties after class. I remember the thrill of walking up the staircase to his house among a grove of enormous eucalyptus trees.
Gaviglio, now 72 and retired, was a professor at Solano College for 37 years, then taught online classes for 10 years after retiring. I called him out of the blue a couple of weeks ago to get a quote for an article and inquired about his treehouse. He had continued to add on to it since the last time I had been there, but has now retired not only from teaching, but also from building.
The idea for the treehouse started with a student at Solano College in 1973.
“I had a crazy hippie friend named Rocky who lived in a bus he’d converted into a place to live and he said, ‘You know, you should build a treehouse and I know where we can get some wood,’ ” Gaviglio said. “We went to the Vallejo docks and got salvage wood. Rocky had a rack on top of his bus and he made a tripod with a pulley on it, so we could pulley up 16-foot-long telephone poles.”
The idea was for the treehouse to just be one room, but Gaviglio, who had always been fascinated with construction, soon became an obsessive builder.
By 1979, Gaviglio’s treehouse sat on five eucalyptus trees and 19 pilings. His creation was featured in newspapers from Los Angeles to St. Petersburg. Fla. There was also a blurb titled “Me Tarzan, You Wipe Your Feet” in the December 1980 issue of Popular Mechanics.
At that time, the treehouse featured 11 rooms, sliding glass doors, curved stairways and a sunken fireplace. Since it was anchored to trees, when the wind blew, it would move and creak like a ship.
While many were impressed with Gaviglio’s treetop dwelling, the Solano County Planning Department was not. One day, a seven-man delegation showed up on Gaviglio’s two-and-a-half-acre lot and told the professor that he was in violation of building codes.
‘The planning department said I could only have one residence on my property. I had a house and the treehouse was also a house. The choices were to rip out the kitchen in the treehouse or move the house. So I moved the house to the other side of Fairfield and sold it. It’s still there on Hamilton Drive near the DMV.”
In 2002, the nearly 600 homes in the Peterson Ranch subdivision began construction and Gaviglio refused to sell his land. So they built around him. Since his property stretched out westward onto what is now the four-lane Walters Road, he was given two parcels in compensation.
His house for nearly 30 years was on unincorporated county land, but is now in Suisun City at the end of the cul-de-sac on Fort Ord Court (no trespassing signs are posted).
When re-visiting the treehouse after 30-plus years, one new feature stood out: the elevator. It is about the size of a large closet with accordion doors on either side. Once reaching the top floor and opening the door, only one word suffices: Wowzers.
The rather rustic and seemingly haphazard exterior of the treehouse only amplified the stunning beauty of its ultramodern interior. The hardwood floors, granite countertops, stained glass windows and decorative skylights are absolutely breathtaking.
Gaviglio’s treehouse is complete with all the latest amenities, including a mancave with the requisite comfy chair, huge TV and video games like Assassin’s Creed.
When he built the elevator, the city had him get a structural engineer to inspect his place. It is now not attached to eucalyptus trees, but firmly embedded in concrete. As for sturdiness?
“It can withstand 85 mph winds and an earthquake,” Gaviglio said.
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at email@example.com.