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Under The Needle: Man evicted from 'amazing' treehouse
04-08-2008, 09:27 PM, (This post was last modified: 04-08-2008, 09:28 PM by ---.)
Under The Needle: Man evicted from 'amazing' treehouse
[Image: 450treehouse_16.jpg]
Csaky works on a fire to keep guests warm in his treehouse.

Under The Needle: Man evicted from 'amazing' treehouse


Squirrelman knows the end is near. A little more than a week ago, city workers arrived unannounced and put pink-ribboned survey stakes around the cluster of trees that hold his home. Then Friday, the city dispatched social workers to tell him about shelters a man with pets can't use and treatment programs a light drinker doesn't need.

[Image: 175treehouse_thumb.jpg]

They told him officials planned to evict him from his treehouse in the vacant lot under the interstate.

They asked him, "Won't you come down for good?"

But Squirrelman says he doesn't have anywhere else to go. On Monday at 9 a.m., when the Seattle Department of Transportation posted a lime-green 48- hour eviction notice on his hand-cobbled gate, telling him that he and his elaborate platform better disappear, Squirrelman didn't come down. His ladder, counterweighted with sandbags on pulleys, remained pulled up like a castle gate. His tent didn't stir.

A day earlier, he talked about the possibility that for the third time in three years he'd lose a carefully constructed home on other people's property. "I'm tired," he said. "I just want to be left alone. I'm not hurting anyone."

Which is true, neighbors said of David Csaky, also known as Squirrelman, decades ago known as Oral Wayne Branch, when he was born into poverty in Los Angeles on Nov. 24, 1955.

"David's a unique character but a good neighbor," said Janet Yoder, who owns an apartment complex adjacent to the unused City Light-owned lot on the 3100 block of Eastlake Avenue East, where Csaky built his home.

"He's built this amazing treehouse in the middle of a city," said Yoder. "I certainly believe he's not a threat of any kind to anyone."

Other neighbors agree, saying the wiry, weathered 52-year- old actually keeps crime down and the vacant lot clean.

Jim Ross, owner of neighboring Ross Laboratories, loaned Csaky a block and tackle he used to haul beams into the trees. "He works hard," Ross said. "He's kind of become the neighborhood watchdog."

No matter. Workers with the city Transportation Department, acting on a citizen report dated March 12, decided Csaky (pronounced Shacky) must go. There are longstanding policies about encampments, about precedents, about liability on rights of way and Csaky is, without a doubt, in violation of each.

Csaky said he's not looking for pity or a handout. He compared himself to a homesteader who simply is using what wasn't used. "I just need a place where I can live with my animals."

He began construction on his "squirrel's nest" about two years ago. Given better luck, he said, he wouldn't be here at all.

He'd moved to Seattle from Pittsburgh and from there by way of Florida. The abridged version of the story he tells is that he was born to a mom who was a prostitute and a dad who was a drunk. City workers, after finding him and his brother stealing food to survive, remanded them first to relatives in Florida, then split them into foster homes.

Eventually, the Csaky family adopted him and he changed his name. He dropped out of high school, got his GED and started a successful vacuum cleaner and carpet-cleaning business, he said. But a bad marriage, bad luck and despair he won't detail put him on the ropes in his late 40s.

He packed up what little he owned and moved to Seattle, hoping to make it to Alaska. A lost job cost him his Belltown studio apartment four years ago. A lack of money and illegal parking cost him his Jeep Cherokee that he lived in after.

Homeless, Csaky searched. Using scraps, found carpet and building supplies, he modified an empty 6-foot crawlspace under a building owned by Don Kennedy Real Estate. So cleverly hidden -- his entry was attached by Velcro and looked permanently sealed -- the real estate company didn't find out for months.

"We were shocked when a manager found it," said Don Kennedy Jr. "It was a nearly full apartment he built down there. Impressive. But he couldn't stay."

Kennedy and his wife were so impressed with Csaky's work, they hired him to do small jobs and let him live in vacant units. This worked for a while. But in the end, Kennedy said, Csaky was smart, personable, talented -- and unreliable.

Csaky built another place, this time in an apartment complex on Eastlake slated for razing. Then one day he found his small, hidden building bulldozed. "I just got off the bus," he said. "I saw it and dropped my bags. I started crying."

He walked to the lot across the street and made temporary shelter in the bushes. Then he noticed the linden tree on the hillside, the Eastlake side of the lot. He wedged a sheet of plywood into the tree, creating a platform big enough for his tent.

It was midsummer and a dense canopy of leaves blanketed the tree and obscured Csaky's roost. "The platform was too small," he said. "I needed more room so I wouldn't fall off."

So he began searching. The neighborhood construction boom got an unexpected beneficiary.

Next door, Janet Yoder and her husband, Robby Rudine, began hearing hammering sounds. But with the din from Interstate 5 overhead and sound reflecting from Lake Union, it was difficult to pin down. Then came fall and a big windstorm. She looked out her window at the tree.

"It was like a curtain got raised," she remembered. "Suddenly there was this treehouse."

She met Csaky a short time later. So would many in that stretch of Eastlake. He'd introduce himself as "David, the treehouse guy."

Over time, he raised his platform and expanded it to approximately 300 square feet. With the block and tackle, he raised a wood stove, chairs and shelves. On the platform rests his tent, three chairs and shelves. A counter cradles an unplumbed sink. The platform stretches across the branches of three trees and is, he said, "solid as a rock." For a time he had electricity, temporarily donated by neighbors -- even a TV, heater and stereo.

From scraps, it has a million-dollar view of the lake and Queen Anne Hill.

"I was happy as hell," he said.

He's not sure what he'll do now. He lives in the tree with his rat Lucky, his ferret Rainbow and an off-balance squirrel named Tilt.

The name, Squirrelman, comes from the pet squirrels he's had over time, tame enough to sit on his shoulder. He says he understands why the squirrels like the trees. "It's safer up here," he said.

But now, it appears over. Neighbors have talked of trying to find him shelter he can use with the animals. He wonders if the city can just take mercy and leave him alone for a few years.

"How much longer am I going to be able to climb that ladder?" he said. " Just leave me alone for a few years and I'll be gone anyway."

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