What's 115 Feet Tall but Comes Up Short?

Times Staff Writer

No matter how gleaming your ornaments or twinkling your lights, height seems to be the deciding factor when judging the war of the conifers.

Sorry, Newport Beach. Maybe next year.

The Fashion Island Christmas tree, a 115-foot white fir looming over the upscale outdoor shopping center, is 5 feet shorter than its nemesis in Miami. Officials in the Florida city announced this week that its 120-foot Norway spruce is the nation's tallest.

The rivalry between the cities, both known more for swaying palms than for the nation's most towering pines, started last year. Newport Beach's 112-footer beat Miami's by 2 feet, prompting a good-natured spat in the media about whose tree was better, stature notwithstanding.

Miami eventually admitted that its tree was shorter, but a city spokesman sniffed that their tree was far prettier.

Now the tables have turned. Despite the size difference this year, Newport Beach Mayor Steve Bromberg said he has no doubt that his city has the better-looking tree. "We always have the preeminent tree," he said. "We're always the one to beat, which is a pretty good position to be in."

The rivalry isn't a big deal to Bromberg, who sees the trees as sources of community pride rather than competition.

"I think the size is more important to Miami than it is to us," he said. "But it's all in fun."

For him and most shoppers at Fashion Island, having an awe-inspiring tree is enough -- even if it has fewer boughs than one thousands of miles away.

Shoppers craned their necks to gawk at the tree this week. The 20,000-pound tree boasts 17,000 bows, lights and beach-ball-size ornaments.

After hoisting their children onto the oversized wooden presents scattered around the tree's base, parents snapped pictures of their squirming toddlers among the lush, green branches.

"The tree is lovely as it is," said Stephanie Kiler, 29, of Huntington Beach, before dashing forward to comfort her bawling 1-year-old son. "It doesn't need to be bigger."

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