Tree house

Glen Gaviglio poses near his treehouse, left, and a picture from the LA Times in 1979 (click photo to view gallery)

Local lifestyle columnists

Whatever happened to that treehouse on Walters Road?

By From page A2 | July 11, 2014

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 protected].

Tony Wade

Tony Wade

Tony Wade is the slightly older yet infinitely more handsome brother of long-time DR columnist Kelvin Wade

Discussion | 13 comments

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  • 2realJuly 11, 2014 - 5:35 am

    Its still there. They just built peterson ranch around it.

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  • Tony WadeJuly 11, 2014 - 7:52 am

    Well, yeah. That is what the column is about.

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  • GinaJuly 11, 2014 - 12:16 pm

    2real..... Do you read anything from start to finish or do you just assume? this is one big reason everyone does not take you serious, this post above alone PROVES why. Please do us all a favor and not post anymore from your problem filled life.

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  • AngelaJuly 11, 2014 - 10:08 am

    Great article. I so remember that tree house. Nice to know it's still there.

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  • RhondaJuly 11, 2014 - 12:01 pm

    I've driven by it every day for the last 24 years. Never had the opportunity to see the inside, but still amazed by the creativeness of the exterior. I drive down the cul-de-sac once or twice a year just to drool at what I can still see without invading privacy.

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  • Floyd GambleJuly 11, 2014 - 12:17 pm

    Thank you, T.W., I've thought about that treehouse over the years, and wondered what had happened to it! Great article! I'll be checking it out ASAP, just so curiosity don't kill this cat! BTW, is it accessible?!

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  • Tony WadeJuly 11, 2014 - 12:23 pm

    Well, it's his house. Glen was very open and gracious and we sat for a while and talked about social issues in the mancave after the tour. While I took his class years ago there was no reason for him to remember me and he didn't, but he and his house is rather unforgettable. So, yes, he is a down-to-earth guy, but it's not like there is a doorbell from the end of the cul-de-sac where the "No Trespassing" signs are located.

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  • 2realJuly 11, 2014 - 3:51 pm

    Gina i was being sarcastic so maybe u didnt get the memo. Think twice before u comment

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  • Shanna WieserJuly 11, 2014 - 6:01 pm

    Wow! Thank you Mr. Wade for the article and pics. I have always wondered about the treehouse. It is beautiful. Thanks for sharing to the owner.

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  • B JJuly 11, 2014 - 11:42 pm

    Thanks Tony for updating us on this tree house. Just wish I could see the inside, will definitely be checking it out.

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  • Tony WadeJuly 12, 2014 - 7:25 am

    Well, if you click the picture on this article you can access some of the pictures I took of the inside.

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  • John RosenbergerJuly 12, 2014 - 3:03 pm

    Great article, too funny: my wife and I had just watched that reality show 'master treehouse builder' (or something like that) on animal planet last night and we both turned to each other and said 'what ever happened to....?! Like a lot of people, she had taken Glenn's class, and I had actually taken a water sample at the house as part of my job working for the irrigation district many years ago, for state required monthly water quality monitoring regs. Thanks for the memories and the great update Tony!

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  • B JJuly 13, 2014 - 7:00 pm

    Tony I did see the pics. Just wish i could see it in person to see the whole experience that you got to have.thanks for great story. I remember when I was on travis driving to suisun we would stop on the side of the road at see that tree house and just awww about how lucky he was to live there. Thanks again tony.

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