GOOD OLD DAYS:

The South Coast Plaza Christmas tree makes its home across the street in Town Center Park for a reason.

In addition to symbolizing the beginning of the busy holiday shopping season, the 96-foot-tall fir represents a family tradition that began 26 years ago with the Segerstrom family and the Christmas tree company with which it partnered.

Victor’s Custom Christmas Trees, Inc. is the family-owned business that has selected, transported and installed the tree in Town Center Park for each of those 26 years.

Victor Serrao and his four sisters were raised around the tree lot his family owned in Downey.

Today, Serrao is president and co-owner — with his sister — of the company his parents started more than 50 years ago.

The first South Coast Plaza tree was only 37-feet-tall, but over the years, as the neighboring poplar trees in the park began to grow, the Christmas tree needed to be bigger to stay proportionate and be seen.

Traveling to Mt. Shasta in Northern California over the summer, the company chooses a tree from one of several timber companies in the area.

Victor’s employs a scout who acts as a liaison between their company and the timber company.

After looking at maps to determine which forest areas have been designated for timber cuts that year, Victor’s crew goes in with a guide from the timber company to select the tree they want.

Getting the tree out of the forest doesn’t always go according to plan.

Before they can get to the tree, they have to build a road into the forest to allow access for the crane and trailer they bring with them.

“You wouldn’t think so, but there are areas [in the forest] that are Indian burial grounds, or there’s a stream too close to where we’d have to build the road in,” Serrao said.

Once the South Coast Plaza tree is positioned in the ground, the decorating begins, and that, again, is a family affair.

The tree will be outfitted with 20,000 lights, a process that takes weeks, Serrao said, and involves all of Victor’s employees — husbands, wives, sons, daughters, nieces and nephews.

Vito Serrao said seeing the business he started 54 years ago pass from generation to generation is gratifying and has always been a “family-type thing.”

Lights are the only decorations used on the tree, Vito Serrao said, which is the way Henry Segerstrom wanted it.

Stan Taeger, director of office property management for South Coast Plaza, has been a part of the Town Center tree ceremony since it began, and said the lights-only request was in keeping with the simple concept the Segerstroms wanted.

The Segerstrom family will be on hand for the tree lighting ceremony Nov. 26.

As tradition has it, one of them will pull the switch to illuminate the tree.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: South Coast Plaza Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony

WHEN: 6 p.m. Nov. 26

WHERE: Town Center Park, adjacent to the Westin South Coast Plaza Hotel, 686 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa

COST: Free

INFO: (866) 716-8132


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