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Five Ways Southern California Once Dressed Itself Up for the Holidays

Private shopping malls like the Grove might orchestrate the most extravagant holiday displays today, but that wasn't always the case. From candy-cane streetcars to Broadway twinkle lights, vintage photos reveal how Southern California once decorated its public spaces for the holidays.

1. Trolleys Painted as Candy Canes

Candy Cane Trolley
Courtesy of the Metro Transportation Library & Archive.

Each December from 1949 to 1953, a few of L.A.’s trolleys and buses took on the appearance of peppermint candy. To dress the cars in their holiday livery, Los Angeles Transit Lines workers painted the vehicles entirely white, applied masking tape, and then spray-painted the red stripes in a spiral pattern. Lettering on the side urged Angelenos to “make a Christmas wish on a candy cane car or coach.” Read more at LAmag.com.

2. Hollywood Boulevard Renamed as Santa Claus Lane

Hollywood Blvd. transformed into Santa Claus Lane, circa 1950. Courtesy of the Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.
Courtesy of the Photo Collection – Los Angeles Public Library.

Beginning in 1928, tin trees and twinkle lights transformed a one-mile stretch of Hollywood Blvd. between Vine and La Brea into Santa Claus Lane. Street signs were even replaced to reflect the (unofficial) name change. Local merchants sponsored the elaborate decorations, hoping to attract holiday shoppers to their businesses. Read more here on Lost L.A.

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3. Downtown Streets Basking in a 2.1 Megawatt Glow

Broadway Decorated for Christmas
Courtesy of the USC Libraries – Dick Whittington Photography Collection.

Not to be outdone, merchants in L.A.’s central business district sponsored their own holiday displays along downtown’s two shopping corridors, Broadway and Seventh Street. In 1939, 42,000 twinkle lights drained 2.1 megawatts from the city’s power grid. Read more at LAmag.com.

4. An Oil Derrick Disguised as a Christmas Tree

Oil Derrick Christmas Tree
Courtesy of the Orange County Archives.

This might be the world’s most unusual Christmas tree. In 1939 and 1940, a Huntington Beach oil company attached more than 100 pine saplings to a steel derrick to create this 127-foot monstrosity. To complete the display, the company sprinkled the ground in bright-white powdered lime. Read more at LAmag.com.

5. A Cedar-Lined Driveway Transformed Into Christmas Tree Lane

Christmas Tree Lane in 1953. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - Los Angeles Examiner Collection.
Courtesy of the USC Libraries – Los Angeles Examiner Collection.

One of Southern California’s oldest holiday traditions began in 1920, when Altadena’s Santa Rosa Ave. first became Christmas Tree Lane. The deodar cedars themselves date to 1885, when Frederick and John Woodbury had them planted to shade what was then a driveway to their ranch house. The tradition continues to this day, despite concerns about the cedars' health. Read more here on Lost L.A.

Top image courtesy of the CSUDH Archives.

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