One hundred years ago this month, the magnificent Deodar trees on Altadena’s Santa Rosa Avenue were first entwined with multi-colored lights and lit on December evenings for the enjoyment of all. Through the years, this brilliant holiday spectacle has enthralled visitors from near and far, becoming a beloved local tradition appropriately named “Christmas Tree Lane.”
The decorated Deodar presentation was astonishing at its inception and at the forefront of what has become one of the most widespread and enjoyable of our holiday rituals – family drives to enjoy public and private displays of Christmas lights. In acknowledgment of its historical significance, Christmas Tree Lane was listed on the National Registry of Historical Places in September 1990. On December 14, 1990, the State of California named it State Historical Landmark Number 990, observing “the merging of two relatively new commodities – the electric light and the privately owned automobile – into a single social event is of an historical uniqueness which may never again be duplicated.” Christmas Tree Lane was also the first State landmark of a botanical nature.
The centennial season brings something new yet again! This year visitors are encouraged to upload The Christmas Tree Lane app, which features an audio guide with music and different recorded offerings to enhance the drive–through experience. The public can access the mobile app via the Christmas Tree Lane website: https://christmastreelane.net/.
In the Beginning
Deodars were introduced to Southern California in 1883 by Altadena founder John P. Woodbury, who first saw a stand of the majestic trees in Italy. Proclaiming them the most beautiful trees he had ever seen, he returned with seeds and, with assurance from a friend at the Department of Agriculture that the trees would do well in California, had his brother Frederick nurse 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-long stretch to Woodbury’s planned estate. The mansion was never built, but the Deodars remained, and they have flourished over the century-plus that has followed.
In 1920, Frederick C. Nash, Altadena resident and owner of Nash’s department store in Pasadena, instituted the first lighting of the Deodars along Santa Rosa with sponsorship of the Pasadena Kiwanis Club. Altadena historian Sarah Noble Ives described the early years of the lighting as quiet evenings where the lane was closed off for an hour each night as residents and other visiting admirers could walk along the lane in silence, prayer, and meditation. By the 1930s these closures were impossible due to the growth and demand of uninterrupted vehicular travel.
The Pasadena Department of Water and Power took part in the event with the stringing and unstringing of the lights up until 1956. From 1920-1940 Thomas Hoag, the Woodbury’s foreman, held the honor of lighting the trees each season. The trees were not lit in 1943 and 1944, not specifically because of World War II, but because the winter snow packs were low and conservation of electricity became a concern. During that period Mr. Hoag passed away.
In 1957 the City of Pasadena announced its intention to discontinue assistance with Christmas Tree Lane, and the Altadena community was pressed into forming its own association, the Altadena Christmas Tree Lane Association (CTLA), under its first president, Lawrence Lamb (of Lamb Funeral Home). From that date until 1966 community interest in the lane declined and with that so did the upkeep and annual presentation. In 1966 Association president Gilbert Hunt asked Mrs. Lenore Denny to form a Women’s Auxiliary. This dynamic group held numerous fundraisers and spearheaded the return of Christmas Tree Lane to a holiday must-see!
Although the annual tree-lighting extravaganza that has brought the community together to festively inaugurate the display over the years was canceled due to safety concerns this year, the trees are once again dressed in a multi-colored glow sure to enhance every visitor’s 2020 holiday season.
- Jeannette Bovard