The Lumber Baron, located in Albany, Calif., was an exclusive supplier of Redwood to the $25 million restoration of the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in 2003 after the landmark site was destroyed by a winter storm in 1995.
Albany, Calif.–Bureaucratic rejection turned out to be a blessing for Albert Slendebroek, who once wanted to grow and sell Christmas trees on his 100-acre property in Philo, Calif.
He applied for an FHA loan and completed the paperwork. “But then a local board nixed it,” Slendebroek recalled. “So I said, ‘I’ll be back!’ ”
Thirty years later, Slendebroek has carved out a successful niche in selling high-quality Redwood for decks, fences and siding. The 62-year-old entrepreneur also has just turned over his company, The Lumber Baron, to his son, Max, 28.
The Lumber Baron, located in Albany, stocks over 25 different sizes of Redwood – unseasoned and kiln-dried, surfaced and rough – as well as beams and timbers from six to 20 feet long. While most other lumber yards sell only one or two grades of Redwood, the elder Slendebroek prides himself on selling five grades of premium all-heart Redwood:
• Construction Heart (aka “Con Heart” or “Blue”). This is the most economical grade. It allows for knots up to 2-1/4 inch in diameter on a 6-inch wide piece and larger knots on wider face widths. It also allows for unsound knots, heart center and sapwood on an occasional edge.
• Select Heart (aka “Select” or “Single Green”). This grade allows for knots up to two inches diameter on a six inch piece and larger knots in wider face widths. The knots must be tight and well distributed; heart center is not allowed. Edge sapwood may be present.
The Lumber Baron’s versatile selection of Redwoods provided the necessary wood source for these benches by Dialogue Design-Build.
• Super Select Heart (aka “Super” or “Double Green”). This grade permits two knots up to 1-inch diameter on a 6-inch wide piece for lengths up to 14 feet, and three knots for 16-20 foot lengths. More knots may be allowed for lumber 4 inches and thicker; all must be tight and sound. Heart center is not allowed. Edge sapwood may be present.
• Clear Heart Fascia (aka “Fascia,” “CHF” or “Red”). The grade lacks knots on its best face, while one or two knots are permitted on reverse face. Heart center is not allowed. Edge sapwood may be present. When reverse face isn’t visible, this grade appears similar to CAH.
• Clear All Heart “CAH” (aka “Yellow”). This is the highest quality Redwood available. No knots on any faces, no sapwood, any defects limited to reverse face.
“I try to look for the older growth,” he said. “I don’t have any sapwood in the yard, which is highly unusual.”
The beauty and durability of Redwood have made it the wood of choice for many exterior projects. Redwood is naturally resistant to rot and termites, and is less likely than other woods to split or warp. Strong yet lightweight, redwood also is easy to machine, paint or stain.
“Redwood doesn’t have many competitors,” Slendebroek said. “Cedar is probably the closest.”
The Lumber Baron fulfills market demand for salvaged and recycled lumber, which has become “kind of an ‘in’ thing in the last four or five years,” Slendebroek said. The company purchases 6x16 timbers from the California Department of Transportation, which periodically tears down old wooden bridges that it deems are too narrow or unsafe.
“I bought a couple of bridges that way,” he said. “It’s beautiful material, crème de la crème from the ‘30s.”
One of The Lumber Baron’s biggest projects has been aiding in the restoration of the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Opened in 1879, the Victorian greenhouse showcased 1,700 species of rare, beautiful tropical plants – until a winter storm in 1995 left the landmark in wooden and glass tatters. A $25 million restoration ensued and the Conservatory reopened in 2003.
This photo, provided by Dialogue Design-Build, is of a set of solid curved doors milled from 3x8’s provided by The Lumber Baron. The doors will be installed at an amphitheatre.
The restoration included about $500,000 worth of buckskin logs, which are timbers that have been abandoned by loggers or have fallen naturally. Full sawn Clear All Heart timber with a dry, vertical grain was used. “That was a really huge job,” Slendebroek said.
The Lumber Baron sells between $2 million and $3 million worth of lumber annually, keeping about $500,000 worth of inventory. “It’s getting harder and harder to get good wood,” Slendebroek said. “The industry is shooting itself in the foot by overcutting.”
He lamented that a focus on short-term profits has prompted loggers into a 60- year cutting rotation, when he says it should be closer to 120 years to meet the maximum sustainable productivity mandated by California’s 1973 Forest Practice Act.
The Lumber Baron is Diamond Certified by the American Ratings Corporation, which surveyed previous customers and examined the company’s license, insurance and business practices. More information about this certification can be found at www.diamondcertified.org. To learn more about The Lumber Baron’s products, please call 510.526.7224 or visit thelumberbaron.com.