Week 155: Christmas Tree Lane Altadena

December 09, 2018

10,000 Steps a Day in L.A.  #27: Altadena (Part 1), 2.9 miles

Paul Haddad's 10,000 Steps a Day in L.A. hikes are all 5 miles, but Barbara and I decided to cut this one in half-ish to focus on one of, if not THE main attraction of the town that grew from the 937-acre plot of land north of Pasadena brothers John and Fred Woodbury purchased in 1881. The Woodburys got permission from the Altadena Nursery (1875) to adopt its hybrid name for the site—"Alta," Spanish for upper; and "dena" for Pasadena. John, a traveler, fell in love with the Himalayan Deodar (wood of the gods) Cedars he saw in Italy and, in 1883, bought Deodar seeds and planted them on his property. When the cedar seedlings were old enough, he had 135 planted along the 1-mile stretch of Santa Rosa Avenue leading to his to-be-built mansion at Altadena Avenue. Chinese workers planted the seedlings and constructed river-rock-lined gutters that became part of the road's historic landscape. In 1920, Fred Nash and other Santa Rosa Ave. residents strung the towering row of cedars with 10,000 lights for the holidays; by 1927, local kids were bugging their parents to drive them to "Christmas Tree Street" to see the lights at night and, voila!—the oldest, large-scale outdoor Christmas lighting spectacle in the world was born. WWII postcards featured the lit cedars on "Christmas Tree Lane;" by the '50s, Boy Scouts were directing the scores of holiday lookie loo traffic. Today, 110 of John Woodbury's original cedars still tower above "Christmas Tree Lane," listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a California Historic Landmark in 1990. Landmark? For a street of Christmas lights? Why not my street? Aha! Because, in the early 1920s, Christmas Tree Lane brought together two 20th century game-changers: electric lights and mass-produced automobiles. Last night, (12/8,) the Christmas Tree Lane Association held its 2018 lighting ceremony and Winter Fest, and I'm sure the avenue was glorious under the lights. But Barbara and I have learned something important from our hikes: no matter how hard mankind tries, Mother Nature ALWAYS shines brighter, and we came to see her contribution to the attraction. Barbara and I started our hike at the tiny, 1928 park donated by Santa Rosa Residents at the intersection of Santa Rosa and Woodbury. Blue skies above and the San Gabriel Mtns. to the north framed our uphill trek through magnificent old cedars. A mottle of homes from various architectural eras, each with a small concrete bridge over the rock-lined gutters leading to driveway, line the avenue. It was impossible to take our eyes off the deep green, 100-year-old+ cedars, strong and regal, each unique. I'm sure the curtain of lights on the cedars at night is incredible, but the real deal daytime view was awesome. We hiked up to Poppyfields Drive (no one really knows where the poppy fields were back then,) then crossed over to Lake Street, and south past the whimsical Bunny Museum then to the shopping street along Mendocino, reminiscent of the 1940s, with a trinket shop, hardware store, and the very cool Wellema Hat Shop. Back down El Molino and to the car at the Pasadena border on Woodbury, with a final, fond goodbye to the old cedars. 

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