CityDig: How Christmas Tree Lane Came To Be


John P. Woodbury could not have foreseen growing a delightful holiday tradition when he and his brother nursed the seeds of Deodar Cedars into small trees way back in the 1880s

Woodbury had a dream to place 150 such trees along a lane, creating a sort of driveway to his estate and up to a mansion that would be the centerpiece of the Woodbury ranch. The foreman planted the saplings, and the trees grew tall and beautiful in majestic rows along the path toward the ranch’s mansion (although it was never actually built–that’s another story). As Altadena grew to the size of a suburb, the lane became Santa Rosa Avenue. The Woodbury estate flourished, as did the Deodars, some reaching 130-feet in height at full maturity.

In 1920 a local businessman named Frederick Nash had the bright idea to illuminate the trees and joined with the local Kiwanis fraternal organization in decorating a quarter-mile section of Santa Rosa during the Christmas season. At first the street was called “the Avenue of the Deodars,” and a holiday tradition of ogling the arboreal phenomenon began.

In its early years, underserved kids were driven along the route by kind members of the Kiwanis who kept their carlights dimmed. After World War II, the driving tours increased in popularity, so much so that some 50,000 cars are believed to have passed during the season. Southern California Edison created special power grids in the 1960s to help with the large-scale illumination, but the tradition has since been continued courtesy of funds from a community volunteer group, the Christmas Tree Lane Association.

While the drive is brief, it is most certainly dazzling and memorable enough to draw carloads generation after generation. In 1990, Christmas Tree Lane was placed in the United States Register of Historic Places and was made California State landmark number 990.

This Sanborn Fire Insurance map is typical of the way the atlases work. Despite being dated January, 1926, its sheets were periodically changed by Sanborn cartographers to reflect neighborhood updates. They did this by gluing slips of paper with the corrected structures drawn in over the originals. Thus sheet 20, which here shows part of Christmas Tree Lane, has been corrected by a Mr. or a Miss or a Mrs. Stewart in July, 1946. The new slip was pasted into the atlases on July 22, 1947 (the 12th such change since the 1926 creation of the original).

Above: Sanborn Fire Insurance Atlas, Altadena, 1946

Los Angeles Public Library map librarian Glen Creason shares a map from the Central Library’s collection at CityThink each week.