Cleveland Park is in mourning. The largest, most venerable, most beautiful resident of our community has been killed -- not accidentally, but intentionally -- by someone who had the presumption to consider himself its owner. We are talking about a magnificent oak tree that was a sapling when George Washington rode his horse past to spend a night at the nearby estate now known as Rosedale. The tree was flourishing when it waved its branches at President Grover Cleveland sitting on his porch across the street at Red Tops, the farmhouse that served as his summer White House.

Gloriously healthy, the great oak survived until just a few days ago when tree cutters spent a whole day in the awful business of dismemberment. As chain saws screamed, the human residents of Cleveland Park, indebted to that tree through the decades for the refreshment of its shade and the uplift of its beauty, stopped to stare in disbelief and sadness. Many were near tears. The destruction of a living thing so magnificent is no small thing. And gives rise to at least three questions.

Shouldn't schools of architecture in this country teach students how to preserve the crowning glory of a piece of property? And is there a law in the District that could have helped Cleveland Park residents save their magnificent leafy neighbor from such ravishment? If not, why not? CAROLYN PATTERSON RICK FISCHER Washington