Altadena's Christmas Tree Lane Evokes an Old-Fashioned Holiday

Published : Monday, December 17, 2018 | 5:57 AM

Altadena’s famous Christmas Tree Lane started glowing again on Saturday, December 8, when the town’s Christmas Tree Lane Association led the annual lighting ceremony along the nine blocks of Santa Rosa Avenue where over 130 large deodar cedar trees now stand after John Woodbury, Altadena’s founder, planted the first trees in 1885.

The ceremony, which started around 1920 when hardware store owner Frederick Nash decorated the deodars with colorful lights to attract customers, has evolved into the oldest large-scale Christmas lighting spectacle in the United States.

But the ceremony is unique in that it has relied solely on community support since 1959 when the nonprofit Christmas Tree Lane Association was organized to preserve the tradition.

Every Christmas season, the deodars on Santa Rosa Avenue have been decorated with over 10,000 lights that are switched on at 6 p.m. every night until January 2. The trees are lighted again during the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6 and 7.

The Lane is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a California State Landmark.

Weeks before the second Saturday of December, at times as early as September, volunteers from all over Altadena and neighboring areas come to help decorate the trees on the Lane, and when the trees are lighted, thousands of revelers from all around the area, as well as local choirs, marching bands, solo performers, and, of course, Santa Claus, converge on the avenue to celebrate the holidays.

On certain nights, a model train house on the Lane is tricked out with model trains in a track laid out in the homeowner’s garage and backyard, and through the interior rooms of the house. This year’s model train house is at 2085 Santa Rosa Avenue, and is open to the public from 6 to 10 p.m. on December 15, 16, 22, 25 and 29, the Christmas Tree Lane Association announced.

Tony Ward, the Association’s vice president, tells the Los Angeles Times the event has become a “nice little hometown gathering.” He first saw the Lane in 1957 at age 12, and has been a volunteer since 1991.

“We build the lines by hand using heavy gauge wire – you don’t just go down to Target to buy these things,” Steve Bailey, a 69-year-old former volunteer, says in the LA Times report.

There have been ups and downs with the way the Association has taken care of the decorations every Christmas, and in the 1980s, a single family largely had to keep the Lane lighted. In the 1990s, a more active Association board took over, erased a budget deficit, and launched the official lighting ceremony.

Ward tells the LA Times the Association has a $12,000 to $17,000 annual budget, propped up by membership dues, donations and sponsorships. Electricity costs were about $2,400 annually, although that has fallen to about $450 as LED bulbs were introduced.

After January, take-down work takes about three months until April. In the spring, volunteers come to rebuild the lines, replace faulty bulbs, and clear the brush growing under the deodars.

For more about the Christmas Tree Lane and how you can help keep the tradition alive, visit www.dev.christmastreelane.net.

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