Yes, it’s a little early to start talking about Christmas Tree Lane, but I can’t help it. The weather is cooling off a bit, and I went to see if there was a site for the lane, but the one currently in search engines no longer works (www.christmastreelane.net). So I thought I’d fill the void with this Wikipedia post for now. Susan Kitchens has some pix on her site (www.2020hindsight.org), and I know I have some from past years when Ian Whitcomb entertained and marching bands paraded down the lane. I’ll look for those. More likely I’ll take new ones this year.

I do have one of the old large, round, clear red lightbulbs that I put on my own tree every year, and pack back up in its plastic case. The lighting ceremony is one of those classic community events, full of kitch and pride and joy. And I love that Altadena has been glorifying what was to have been the Woodbury Estate driveway since 1956, when Altadena got Pasadena off our territory!

When I first moved to Altadena in 1995, one of my biggest thrills was driving silently down Santa Rosa with my 240SX’s lights off to not disturb drivers coming the other way. I opened my sunroof and was instantly in a zone of holiday magic. No one was racing down the street, no horns, no indication of life anwhere else. Just the magic of that canopy of Christmas lights overhead. I can’t wait til the lighting ceremony this year — December 8. Don’t miss! I hope to have some AltadenaAboveItAll merchandise there and I’ll surely be taking LOTS of pictures, as well as interviewing the celebrants! In the meantime, send me your Christmas Tree Lane stories and I’ll post them here!

Christmas Tree Lane

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Christmas Tree Lane

Christmas Tree Lane, view looking north up Santa Rosa Avenue from Woodbury Road

Christmas Tree Lane, view looking north up Santa Rosa Avenue from Woodbury Road

Location: Santa Rosa Ave. between Altadena Drive and Woodbury Road
Altadena, California
Added to NRHP: September 13, 1990
NRHP Reference#: 90001444[1]
Governing body: Local

Christmas Tree Lane is mile long (.7 mi.) boulevard of deodar cedar trees in Altadena, California. The trees on the Lane, Santa Rosa Avenue, have been lighted annually as a Christmas Holiday display since 1920. It is recognized as the oldest large-scale outdoor Christmas display in the world and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (1990), and is designated California Historical Landmark No. 990 (1990).

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History

Planting the Lane

Deodars were introduced in 1883 to Southern California by Altadena founder John P. Woodbury who first saw a stand of the deodars in Italy. Proclaiming them the most beautiful trees he had ever seen, he returned with seeds. With assurance from a friend of his at the Department of Agriculture that the trees would do well in California, John had his brother Frederick raise them at the Altadena ranch. In two years they were transplanted to Santa Rosa Avenue which would become a driveway from Pasadena up the near mile stretch to Woodbury’s planned estate. The mansion was never realized, but the deodar legacy was left and it flourished for over a century to follow.

[edit] First Lighting

In 1920 Altadena resident and Pasadena businessman Frederick C. Nash came up with an idea of lighting the trees for the holidays. He sought assistance from his organization The Pasadena Kiwanis Club and from the City of Pasadena to initially light a 1/4 mile section of the roadway. Over the next few years the lighting expanded until the entire row of trees, 150 in all, were lighted. The boulevard at that time was referred to as the “Avenue of the Deodars.” Though many pedestrians would walk along the lighted street, it was really a spectacle to behold from the seats of slowly passing automobiles.

In 1927 the newer Altadena Kiwanis Club began the custom of taking less fortunate children for rides along what they joyfully called “Christmas Tree Street.” It was estimated that annually more than 50,000 automobiles travel the avenue during the weeks of the lighting, and modern statistics show that number has not changed much.

Lighting went on for the next three decades with Mr. Tom Hoag, the foreman of the Woodbury Ranch who saw to the planting of the lane, doing the honor of “pulling the switch” for each lighting ceremony. In the years 1943 and 44 the Lane was let go dark, not for anything to do with the war effort, but for the fact that the winter snow packs were low and conservation of electricity became a concern (see discussion note). During that period Mr. Hoag died.

The Lane had its share of postcards which were published internationally, but after the war many of the cards came up with the caption, “Christmas Tree Lane.” It is supposed that is where the street actually took its present-day name.

[edit] Christmas Tree Lane Association

Same intersection in 1959.

Same intersection in 1959.

In 1956 the residents of Altadena had voted on a measure to stop Pasadena annexation of Altadena lands. This ended a half century of Altadena being bit-by-bit turned into Pasadena, and it also ended the City of Pasadena’s involvement with Christmas Tree Lane. The Altadena community was left on its own to take care of the annual lighting. From a concerned citizenry the Altadenans formed the Christmas Tree Lane Association (CTLA). The original members were able to enlist the assistance of Local 11 of the Electrical Worker’s Union to string the trees each year. Boy Scouts of the San Gabriel Valley Council manned the side street blockades which directed traffic to the top of the Lane.

In 1964 the CTLA was able to enlist the assistance of Southern California Edison to install a permanent grid along the trees with special throw switches in three intersection locations with no cost attached the installations or use of electricity. In 1966 the Women’s Auxiliary was formed to help with fund-raising and keeping the Lane ready each year. In 1973, done more as a public relations move, the Lane was left dark during the Energy Crisis brought on by the world wide panic of low fuel availability.

[edit] Landmark Status

One of the several signs indicating Christmas Tree Lane as a California State Landmark.

One of the several signs indicating Christmas Tree Lane as a California State Landmark.

Over time age, disease and weather began to take toll on several of the trees. By 1990 there were but 135 of the original trees still standing. Nevertheless, that year Christmas Tree Lane was listed in the National Register of Historic Places and became California State Landmark No. 990. Of particular interest to those who were reviewing the application, it was noted that Christmas Tree Lane brought about the singularly significant social convergence of two relatively new commodities: the outdoor electric light and the automobile. Christmas Tree Lane is also recognized as the only botanical landmark on the State Registry.

In 1994 a more vigorous Board of Directors of the Christmas Tree Lane Association,instigated by Frank Crunk, forester of the Lane and assisted by new Lane residents Janice and Max Jouanicot and others, began repairing and replacing the strings of lights and re-planting those trees that had been lost over the years.

[edit] Deregulation threatens Lane

In the year 2000 the State’s electrical utilities were deregulated. Because of this Southern California Edison gave notice that it would have to charge for electrical use. To this point the electrical supply had been provided freely to the Lane. However, the permitting and installation of power meters is a function of Los Angeles County Public Works. Part and parcel to the permitting process is the inspection and upgrading of the electrical systems. Public Works was not at all accepting of the fifty-year-old electrical grid, and the County Engineer declared the electrical system unsafe. Cursory estimates for rewiring the grids ran from nearly eighty thousand dollars, based on material costs and volunteer labor, into the millions and looked to require months of work, depending on what the County engineers would accept. This put the annual lighting of the Lane in jeopardy.

The Board of Christmas Tree Lane Association,under the leadership of long term CTLA board member George Lewis,CTLA President Jan Jouanicot, Board member Stephen Bailey and Altadena Town Councilman Steve Lamb, appealed to the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich. Nelson Nelson, a Public Works administrator, met with the CTLA Board and other concerned community members, and approved an acceptable plan at an estimated cost of $130,000 which was provided by Supervisor Antonovich. The Lane that year was lighted on schedule.

[edit] Annual schedule

The Lanes lights are now put up every year by a small group of volunteers who start working in mid-October on weekends and most years finish just in time for the lighting.

The volunteers are made up of locals, members of the Christmas Tree Lane Association, and service organizations though anyone is welcome to join. All the light bubs are put on to lines and then put on the trees by hand with the help of pulleys and ladders.

The Lane is generally lighted at a “Lighting Ceremony” on the second Saturday of December unless otherwise indicated. The lights will go on at dark and will turn off around midnight. The lighting will continue to January 1st, or 2nd if its on a weekend.

Then starting in the end of January or early February depending on the weather, all the lights are taken down by the same small group and everything is stored until the next year.

[edit] Directions to…

Christmas Tree Lane is located in the unincorporated community of Altadena, California. The most popular route is downhill from Altadena Drive. In the past, all traffic was directed to the top and the Lane ran one way during visiting hours. The Lane operates in both directions now. Though there has also been a custom to drive with the headlights dimmed, the California Highway Patrol has stated unequivocally that there are no special exceptions made for dimming car lights while driving on the Lane, and that general public and pedestrian safety requires car lights to be left on.

Freeway accessing: Westbound 210 Freeway (Foothill Fwy) to Lake Avenue. Drive north (right turn) to Altadena Drive, the very last light going up the hill approximately 3 miles from the Freeway. Turn left one block to Santa Rosa. The lighted trees are a give-away. Uphill motorists can turn left at Woodbury Road, about 2.2 miles up from the Freeway, and drive 4 blocks to Santa Rosa.

Eastbound 210 from the direction of La Canada Flintridge, take the Windsor Avenue off-ramp, turn left to Woodbury, then right for about 2 miles to Santa Rosa Avenue. The tall lighted trees will be a landmark. You can also take Marengo Avenue north to Altadena Drive and turn right to Santa Rosa if you prefer the downhill route.

Eastbound SR 134 (Ventura Freeway) can use either the Lake Avenue approach as above, or take the 210 north to Lincoln Avenue. Turn right to Woodbury; turn right to Santa Rosa Avenue.

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