Giant tree takes its place at Fashion Island

When installing a 90-foot Christmas tree at Fashion Island — for a fee of roughly $1,000 per foot — one certainly hopes it will stand straight.

The tree's arrival Monday morning to the famed Newport Beach shopping center kicked off the preparations for an influx of holiday shoppers and more than 10,000 people expected each night for the Disney-themed tree lighting ceremonies Nov. 15 and 16.

Over the coming weeks, 4,000 poinsettias will be placed throughout the shopping center, and 129 palm trees will be wrapped in holiday lights. Seven massive ornaments ranging from 90 to 400 pounds will hang from the skylight at the Atrium Court building.

The tree remains the focal point. Extra branches will be inserted into its giant trunk to fill out the shape. After it is fireproofed, lights will be strung.

Added strobe lights and new ornaments will also be installed in preparation for a new Disney voice-over and music presentation that will turn on daily at 5 p.m. beginning after the official tree lighting and lasting through Jan. 5.

But first, the chosen tree needed to be straight.

The tree-planting process began at 6 a.m., when the white fir arrived lashed to a truck that wound its way between LensCrafters and Bloomingdale's, pulling to a stop just past Anthropologie.

Nine workers from Victor's Custom Christmas Trees, the company that also installed the 96-foot tree for South Coast Plaza in mid-October, helped the crane-operating crew lift the tree from the truck bed and guide it toward a 10-foot hole that is usually topped and hidden by grass.

They sawed straight into the bottom of the trunk, chopped off lower branches and lowered it onto an awaiting pin.

"My heart's still pounding," worker Kevin McLaughlin said as he backed toward Neiman Marcus to check yet again if the trunk was vertical.

Half of the tree's branches, smushed during the drive from Northern California, remained bent. But they would be fixed later. Looking toward the awaiting crew, who had been wedging planks of wood into the cylindrical hole to stabilize the massive tree, McLaughlin gave two thumbs up.

The first — and hardest — step had been accomplished. The tree stood straight.

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