Member
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Discover all the ways you can make a difference.
Support Icon
The Leadership, Advancement, Membership and Special Events teams are here to help.

Christmas Tree Lane: The Origins of a Southern California Tradition

Christmas Tree Lane
Support Provided By

Woodbury ranch superintendent Thomas Hoag had no idea the three-foot seedlings he was planting would someday become a major Yuletide attraction. It was 1885, and Hoag and his Chinese American ranch hands were building a driveway that climbed a steady grade from the Pasadena city limit up to the ranch house of Altadena founders Frederick and John Woodbury. Sweating under the June sun, Hoag and his workers dug ditches on each side of the drive and lined them with granite stones transported by mule from nearby Rubio Canyon. Behind the ditches they planted roughly 150 young deodar cedars, which Hoag had grown from seed in the Woodburys' greenhouse over the previous two years.

The cedars' conical shape and low-slung branches inspired Pasadena merchant Fred Nash to transform the Himalayan conifers into Christmas trees.

Thirty-five years later, in 1920, the Woodburys' driveway had become Santa Rosa Avenue, the ranch had evolved into now-suburban Altadena, and the fragile seedlings had matured into robust cedar trees. Their conical shape and low-slung branches inspired Pasadena merchant Fred Nash to transform the Himalayan conifers into Christmas trees. Enlisting the aid of the Pasadena Kiwanis Club, Nash festooned the trees with red, white, blue, and green electric lights, and an annual holiday tradition was born.

In Christmas Tree Lane's early years, pedestrians strolled in the soft glow of 10,000 electric bulbs. But it soon became an attraction to be seen from the seat of a car, as an endless nighttime procession of automobiles, their headlights dark, crawled up the one-mile stretch of Santa Rosa Avenue. In 1935, the display drew more than 20,000 people on a single Christmas evening. The glittering trees fell outside Pasadena's corporate limits, but for several decades Crown City workers strung the lights while Southern California Edison provided the electricity for free.

In 1930, Hoag returned for the attraction's annual dedication ceremony. The former ranch foreman might have felt some ambivalence about using a tree considered divine among Hindus as a decoration for a Christian holiday. Hoag recalled hearing Frederick Woodbury remark, he told the Los Angeles Times, that "the seeds were from a heathen land, but the California sun would civilize them if anything could." Pulling a switch that Christmas Eve, the 79-year-old Hoag closed an electric circuit and illuminated the trees he'd once planted to shade a rural ranch road.

Altadena's Santa Rose Avenue, perhaps before it had become Christmas Tree Lane. Courtesy of the Pasadena Public Library.
Altadena's Santa Rose Avenue, perhaps before it had become Christmas Tree Lane. Courtesy of the Pasadena Public Library.
An automobile drives down Santa Rosa Avenue in 1925. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - California Historical Society Collection.
An automobile drives down Santa Rosa Avenue in 1925. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - California Historical Society Collection.
A Pacific Electric interurban car crosses Santa Rosa Avenue. Courtesy of the Photo Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.
A Pacific Electric interurban car crosses Santa Rosa Avenue. Courtesy of the Photo Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.

Christmas Tree Lane in 1929. Courtesy of the Security Pacific National Bank Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.
Christmas Tree Lane in 1929. Courtesy of the Security Pacific National Bank Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.
Christmas Tree Lane in 1931. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - Dick Whittington Photography Collection.
Christmas Tree Lane in 1931. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - Dick Whittington Photography Collection.
Christmas Tree Lane in 1960. Courtesy of the Herald-Examiner Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.
Christmas Tree Lane in 1960. Courtesy of the Herald-Examiner Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.
Christmas Tree Lane in 1953. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - Los Angeles Examiner Collection.
Christmas Tree Lane in 1953. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - Los Angeles Examiner Collection.
A color postcard of Altadena's Santa Rosa Avenue transformed into Christmas Tree Lane. Courtesy of the Security Pacific National Bank Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.
A color postcard of Altadena's Santa Rosa Avenue transformed into Christmas Tree Lane. Courtesy of the Security Pacific National Bank Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.

Support Provided By
Read More
An archival black-and-white photo of a man kneeled with his hand on a vintage car.

When L.A. Drove in the Dark: SoCal During World War II

At the height of World War II, Southern Californians navigated nights in complete darkness as defense authorities imposed severe dimout restrictions on the region, ordering residents to turn of all lights that could be seen from sea at night.
A composite photo of Charlotta Bass, left, and Miriam Matthews, right

These Two Women Spent Decades Highlighting the African Heritage of L.A.

Throughout the last century, two prominent African American women — Charlotta Bass and Miriam Matthews — consistently shone a light on the city's early African heritage, raising awareness of the Black heritage of the city's first settlers.
An aerial photo showing winding roads and homes laid out in an orderly fashion.

L.A.'s 'Black Beverly Hills' Still Threatened by Racist Past

Known as "Black Beverly Hills," View Park by becoming one of the largest, wealthiest and most architecturally distinct Black neighborhoods in Los Angeles. But it owes its significance to a complicated racial history.