A Hidden Gem 11

Resident builds ultimate backyard escape.

 

Any local who has taken time to wander down our city’s old farm-town streets has noticed there are little nuggets of charm to be found everywhere. Perhaps the most potentially adventurous of these nuggets are the large number of tree houses. What rings more true to the feel of an “all-American summer” than hanging out in your tree house, eating s’mores and telling ghost stories?

 

If you’re up for a fun family scavenger hunt, pick a street in Draper and take a walk. Try counting the number of homes that either have a unique kid’s playhouse or an amazing tree house in the style of the Swiss Family Robinson. You will find everything from quaint, Victorian-style houses, to literal “hobbit homes,” to tree houses with slides for an exit. Still, none of these uniquely built playhouses quite rival one particular tree house located on Third East.

The story behind this four-story club house is rather unique. It all began when Draper local, Billy Herrera, was asked by his son to install two pull-up bars for his son’s Marine Corps training. Obligingly, Herrera built. After his son left home to serve his country, the pull-up bars remained, “withered and unused.” During one long summer, Herrera had a stroke of genius. He decided to use those old beams as a starting point to construct something amazing.

He remembers:

Back when I was a kid growing up in the seventies, my mom bought a new refrigerator, washer and dryer. My sisters and I took the boxes from those appliances and cut out windows and doors. Then we connected them with duct tape and had the greatest fort ever. It was summer and we spent three nights sleeping in it, then a monsoon rolled through and crushed our dreams. We felt invincible in that fort made of paper, until the roof came down on our heads from the weight of the downpour. Puppy Love was just coming out on the radio and, like many kids my age, I romanticized about bringing my girlfriend to that fort to hang out.

As I got older I was always fascinated at the prospect of building my own treehouse, because it took me back to a time when all I needed was a little imagination and a roll of duct tape to spend the long summer days. I was excited; I was ready to build the greatest fort ever. My kids were going to have the fort I never had. As my wife and I discussed the plans, I got chills reliving a part of my life I could never forget. I was going to put the fort up on stilts so that the legions of darkness could never reach us up there, 20 feet from the ground.

The first installment of the tree house, the bottom floor, became a room designed for his granddaughters. It was at Herrera’s wife, Breezy’s, insistence that this “fairy cottage” space came to be and with a mutual understanding that, as Herrera says, “the girls were on their own when faced with invading hordes.” The second floor developed into a level designated for his two youngest sons and now grandsons that come to play. The third floor is a smaller room that is used as the sleeping quarters. To top it all off, literally, the “crow’s nest” sits high above, allowing the kids to climb “above the world and watch in playful observance and curiosity.” At first, Breezy was “vehemently” against the high tower, but Herrera was insistent, explaining to her, “The boys could suffer an ambush on their backside if they didn’t have 360-degree views from the fort, and so, I built the tallest crow’s nest in the neighborhood. Breezy is terrified of heights. But the kids love it.”

As if having four floors of adventuring potential wasn’t enough, the package includes a bridge that extends out to a fire pole, decks on both levels, two entries to the second and third floor (one for you and one for the pirates), multiple swings and 100 GPH water cannons fully equipped to ward off bad guys or pesky neighbors, and totally off limits to girls.

Swings and water cannons aside, the item of greatest note about this backyard gem is that its construction was motivated by love. Love of children, love of adventure and love of what many of us imagine as the classic American summer of our youth. Herrera sums it up perfectly when he says,

It’s a great treehouse, but to be honest, other than the crow’s nest and the high powered water cannons, I’ll take my cardboard box fort over this one any day and twice on Sunday. That cardboard fort was a mythical place because of the state of mind that we enjoyed as children. A state of mind that allowed us to sleep well at night because we had no worries, no bills and certainly no stress. We just got to play. Our imaginations were crazy; some nights we really believed we were being overrun by Indians. There were no better days than those that reverberated with some stroke of our imagination. Life was simpler and little things meant so much more. 

Tom and Huck couldn’t have said it better themselves.