A Tale of Two Trees

Pasadena has long been noted for its beautiful tree-lined streets, but the original landscape was a largely treeless plain, with a few native live oaks. The location of two of those trees determined the course of Orange Grove Avenue, when the land that later became West Pasadena was subdivided in early 1874.

A view of West Pasadena in 1877, from the corner of Pleasant Street and Marengo Avenue, shows a landscape with few native trees.
A view of West Pasadena in 1877, from the corner of Pleasant Street and Marengo Avenue, shows a landscape with few native trees.

Unlike the north-south direction of Fair Oaks Avenue, which then formed the eastern boundary of the settlement, Orange Grove Avenue inclined several degrees to the west. It was laid out to include two native live oak trees in the middle of the street, one at California and another one further south near State Street.

A postcard view looking north from the live oak tree at the intersection of California and Orange Grove
A postcard view looking north from the live oak tree at the intersection of California and Orange Grove. The Pasadena & Valley Union predicted in 1884 that the circular seat would be the site of lofty discussions.

A view looking north from the live oak in the middle of Orange Grove Avenue near State Street.  This tree was surrounded by plants or flowers, within a circular curb.
A view looking north from the live oak in the middle of Orange Grove Avenue near State Street. This tree was surrounded by plants or flowers, within a circular curb.

Both of the trees were often photographed, but the one at the intersection of Orange Grove and California seems to have achieved more recognition. On October 11, 1884 the Pasadena & Valley Union carried the following in the “Local News and Notes” section:

“Mr. E.F. Hurlbut has forwarded $5.00 to Thos. Nelmes, as his donation towards the rustic seat around the grand old Oak Tree on Orange Grove avenue. Mr. Nelmes informs us that he now has more than enough funds to erect this seat, which will be forty feet in circumstance (sic) and an attractive accommodation to travelers.  …We presume this spot will someday be like unto the ancient forum at Rome, where the philosophers and orators of Pasadena may come to discuss the questions of the day.”

In the book, Talking About Pasadena, early resident Benjamin McAdoo recalled how the tree was viewed by the community:

“In the middle of the street, California and Orange Grove, there was a large oak tree.  It was right in the middle of the intersection. That oak tree was pampered and petted for years and years.  They tried to keep it alive.  It became very famous.  It was written about and ‘poemed’ about all over the country, that oak tree that stood there.”

- Kirk Myers

This article was originally published in the Winter 2014 issue of West Pasadena Residents' Association's The News.