John P. Woodbury, one of the founders of Altadena, discovered deodar trees while traveling in Italy. He fell in love with the exotic evergreens, which were native to the Himalayan foothills, and he brought seeds back to the U.S. In 1883. After two years of cultivation in a local nursery, the trees were planted along the two sides of the dirt roadway approaching the site of the mansion he proposed to build. The mansion was a never-completed dream, but the deodar-lined approach road became what is now Santa Rosa Avenue, two blocks from ABC.
In 1922 Frederick C. Nash led an effort to put seasonal Christmas lights on the picturesque trees. The City of Pasadena and the Pasadena Kiwanis Club supported his efforts, and about one-fourth of the length of the line of deodars were lit the first year. By 1926, all 150 trees were lit up, and what became known as “Christmas Tree Lane” in rural Altadena soon became a major LA-area attraction during the holidays.
The lane had some set-backs over the years due to World War II, economic reversals and lack of organized leadership. But in 1957 the Christmas Tree Lane Association was formed, and this group has kept a continuing focus on maintaining the traditions of Altadena’s deodars. ABCer Nancy Lane White was one of the group’s recent leaders before her move to Colorado. Lenore Denny, mother of ABCer Matt Denny, began the Women’s Auxiliary years ago. Current ABCer Dave Steinbacher put in many hours this fall replacing bulbs and hanging strings of lights. The families from our Altadena Christian Children’s Center won the “Best Decorated Booth” award at last Saturday’s lighting ceremony; they sold child-created ornaments and fresh wreaths, and they made many friends for the Center.
Since 1990, Christmas Tree Lane has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is a California State Landmark. All of this is a tribute to small-town activism and tireless voluntarism.
Now, here’s the parable part. In old pictures of the Lane the trees look like trees.* The deodar’s elegant shape is what first caught Woodbury’s eye, and he saw to it that they were neatly planted in straight lines and evenly spaced from one another. They stood like well-disciplined soldiers along the roadway, all the same height and perfectly shaped.
But today, as you drive through the Lane, you have to imagine that these are distinct trees. They have all grown together, and their branches sometimes intermingle. Telephone lines have required pruning that further distorts the trees’ shapes. Windstorms and root-rot have taken out a few of the trees, and young trees have been planted to replace them. This is promising for the future, but results in some odd incongruities along the current roadside treeline. When I drive the Lane in 2013 I feel as if I’ve entered a tunnel of lights, without much awareness of the shapes of the trees.
When we are young, things seem pretty clear. Everything has its place and purpose. We tend to accept values and traditions that are part of the world we live in. The trees around us are shaped like trees, and we celebrate our child reality with festive lights.
But as we go through hard life experiences all the shapes seem to change. Storms, pruning and root-rot take their toll. We grow into each others space and lose track of our individual limits and territory. Some old friends aren’t there anymore and are replaced by young saplings. Instead of seeing our life as a line of carefully-spaced trees leading somewhere, we feel we are in a tunnel that may be a cul-de-sac.
The parable of Christmas Tree Lane gives us a clear word of advice: LIGHT THOSE LIGHTS ANYWAY! Celebrate the life you have today, even though you don’t understand it, even if it seems a bit scary. If you light the lights, you’ll see that the tunnel of confusion leads just as surely to God’s purpose for you as the beautiful row of trees did in your youthful dreams.
Come on, light those lights! Celebrate this Christmas!
— Pastor George Van Alstine
*A color postcard of Altadena’s Santa Rosa Avenue transformed into Christmas Tree Lane from approximately 1930s. Courtesy of the Security Pacific National Bank Collection – Los Angeles Public Library