They’re perfectly conical, with long draping boughs and a citrusy fragrance: The perfect Christmas tree. Fortunately, Americans can’t chop down any of the 132 historically protected cedars that line a street outside of Los Angeles called Christmas Tree Lane.
The Cedrus deodara, a native to the Himalayas commonly known as the deodar, were planted in 1885 by John P. Woodbury, a real estate investor who was the the founder of Altadena, a small community in the foothills northeast of Los Angeles. After a trip to Italy, he fell in love with the tree and returned with seeds to plant some near his home. The deodars were meant to line the drive of his mansion, but the mansion was never built and his driveway became a city street.
A postcard of Santa Rosa Avenue, which would later become Christmas Tree Lane, via Christmas Tree Lane Association
The lane became a holiday spectacle in 1920, when a local department store owner decided to decorate the trees in the hopes that they’d attract shoppers to his shop. At first, visitors walked the street (reaching the area via local trolley), but eventually residents would come from all over L.A. during the early days of the automobile to slowly drive down the lane.
All lit up in 1938, photo via Hometown Pasadena
This commercial enterprise was taken over by a community group in 1957, which spends October to December each year putting up the lights, and February to April taking them down.
In 1964, Southern California Edison installed a permanent grid on the street so that the lights could plug directly into special throw switches at three intersections. Then, in 2000, the deregulation of local utilities in Southern California meant the company would no longer sponsor the electricity for the display, as it had for decades. The system was upgraded and rewired by the Los Angeles County Supervisor but donations currently help pay for the power.
Currently, volunteers estimate the trees are decorated with over 10,000 lights, which recently began undergoing a transition to LEDs.
The light display in 2006, photo by Geographer
Deodars are hardy, sturdy trees which can grow to 70 feet tall, although they have a tendency to flatten their tops in old age.
And that begs the question: How long will these deodars last? Some deodars are estimated to be over 800 years old; a slice of one aged 704 years is on display in India. In Altadena, there are 132 of the original 146 trees still standing, some lost due to age, root disease, and high winds.
Photo by Konrad Summers
Christmas Tree Lane was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1990 and is designated as a California State Landmark. The 93rd lighting ceremony took place last weekend. It is recognised as the oldest large-scale outdoor Christmas display in the world, even though it has gone dark for three different seasons, including once during 1970, due to the energy crisis.
Top photo: Signage directs drivers to the deodars, photo by Konrad Summers
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