A history of charity for Burbank Christmas tree operator

Gary Casella hovered over a 17-foot bundled Christmas tree one recent morning under a large white tent on the Burbank High School soccer field.

“This one’s going to the city of Burbank,” Casella, 74, said of the 19-year-old tree, one of the first he would deliver this season.

Casella’s 75-year-old Christmas tree business — founded in 1937 by his father, Paul Casella — has been operating in Burbank for nearly five decades.

“I told my dad before he passed I’d get to 75 years,” Casella said of the business.

The senior Casella ran a produce business out of Glendale before he started selling Christmas trees to supplement his income. Gary Casella and his brother, Don, took over the business in 1964.

Over the years, Gary Casella has contributed more than $300,000 to Burbank High School — his alma mater — in scholarships, athletic equipment and jobs, he said. This year, he’ll give back through a $5-per-tree rebate program for families in the Burbank Unified School District.

He expects to sell more than 3,500 trees this year from his Burbank lot. The majority hail from the 60-acre Washington state tree farm, Christmas Creek Ranch, he operates with his wife. It’s home to about 60,000 Christmas trees and a nationally recognized wreath operation.

The trees are usually cut just four days before they’re delivered to Burbank.

The trees can take more than a decade to grow and require year round maintenance. And the cost has only increased over the years due to rising fuel prices, tree lot rents and higher permit fees.

“It’s sort of a real tough grind to be here 12 to 13 hours every day, 25 to 30 days – it takes a lot to set up,” Gary Casella said.

But nothing beats watching families take home his trees, he added.

“You get to see happy people leave your lot after they buy trees,” he said.

The tree lot is located on the Burbank High School soccer field, with entry on Glenoaks Boulevard. It’s open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

-- Alene Tchekmedyian, Times Community News

Follow Alene Tchekmedyian on Google+ and on Twitter: @atchek.

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