Unique Visual Exhibit Displays Fourteen Decades of Altadena History on Annular Rings of 140-Year Old Deodar Tree

Published on Jul 23, 2022

Designer Baeri Penn shown during the exhibit’s installation. [Photo courtesy of the Altadena Historical Society]

Planted in 1883, Deodar Tree #8 (also known as “Herbert”) on Altadena’s famous Christmas Tree Lane, lived through 14 decades of Altadena history before being cut down in 2017 due to drought damage. 

But Herbert was not to be forgotten; a thin slice of the tree’s trunk is preserved and is now the centerpiece in a professionally designed visual exhibit that will greet visitors at the Altadena Community Center, set to reopen to the public on Saturday, July 23, after a long closure due to the pandemic.

The exhibit also includes photographs, writings and other items that feature events tied to the rings on the slice of Herbert’s trunk – things that tell the story of how Altadena came to be. 

It was Altadena area volunteer René Amy who preserved this slice of the trunk, or tree cookie, and gave the fallen tree the name Herbert. When Amy later met retired exhibit designer Baeri Penn on a trail-clearing hike, they talked about the idea of creating a permanent exhibit that will include that piece of Herbert’s trunk. And the rest, says the Altadena Historical Society, is history.

The exhibit, “Fourteen Decades of Altadena History 1883-2017,” highlights Altadena’s history from its beginning in 1883 – the year Deodar #8 was planted – to the last year of Herbert’s life. 

Dendrologist Trevis Matheus Ph.D. shown dating the tree rings. [Photo courtesy of the Altadena Historical Society]

It opens on Saturday, July 23, with a ceremony that starts at 2 p.m. at 730 E. Altadena Drive. 

“Images for the exhibit were carefully chosen to represent a cross-section of Altadena events from the 1880s through the 2010s. Mount Lowe Railroad, Altadena’s first school, saving the Cobb Estate, political events, and disasters – they all appear in their decade,” according to the spring/summer newsletter of Altadena Historical Society.  

“This is Altadena’s first museum-quality exhibit in which a timeline of Altadena’s history has been graphically tied to the life of a tree from Altadena’s famous Christmas Tree Lane,” Jean Phillips, Vice President of the Altadena Historical Society, said. “The event celebrates our history and that of our Altadena Community Center, which provides office space for several nonprofit organizations.” 

Aside from the Altadena Historical Society, also housed at the Altadena Community Center are the offices of the Altadena Chamber of Commerce, Altadena Heritage, the Altadena NAAPC, Altadena Sheriff’s Support Group, Altadena Town Council, Los Angeles County District #7, and Quality of Life.

“We hope the exhibit brings the history of our town to life and gives people the opportunity to meet members of these organizations and, of course, meet their fellow Altadenans,” Phillips said. 

Deodar #8, or Herbert, was one of several trees that grew out of seeds that John Woodbury, one of the founders of Altadena, brought back from a visit to Italy in the early 1880s. He wanted the seeds planted along the long driveway to his planned estate in the tract owned by him and his brother, Fred.

John Woodbury left Altadena before he could build the estate, but his brother planted the seeds in 1883 in the nursery adjacent to his own home. His foreman, Tom Hoag, transplanted the seedlings to what is now Santa Rosa Avenue in 1885. 

In 1920, Altadena businessman Fred Nash, with the help of the Pasadena Kiwanis Club, draped the tree branches with colored electric Christmas lights, and Altadena’s Christmas Tree lane was born. 

To learn more about the work of the Altadena Historical Society, follow www.facebook.com/AltadenaHistoricalSociety

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