Altadena Junction: The lights that never go out

One year ago today, Altadena was coping with disaster. On the evening of Nov. 30 and morning of Dec. 1, 2011, the San Gabriel Valley endured hurricane-force winds that knocked down trees, broke power poles as though they were toothpicks and plunged Altadena into darkness.

One damaged area was the stretch of Santa Rosa Avenue that is transformed each year into Christmas Tree Lane. Every fall, volunteers meet for weeks to string lights on the deodar cedars that line the street from Woodbury Road to Altadena Drive, creating one of the largest Christmas displays in the Los Angeles area. Every year, thousands of drivers cut their headlights and cruise slowly in the darkness to take in the overhead canopy of thousands of brightly colored lights.

But last year that didn’t seem likely. Branches had blown off in the high winds, tearing the carefully set strands of lights down with them. The street was covered with branches, and some deodars had fallen over entirely. All this 10 days before the lights were to come on.

It was bad news for the Christmas Tree Lane Assn., which calls the annual attraction “the oldest large-scale Christmas lighting spectacle in the United States.”

The deodar cedars were planted by John P. Woodbury, one of Altadena’s founders. Woodbury had fallen in love with the trees when in Italy, and brought back seeds that were nursed into saplings on his family’s ranch. He wanted the trees to line the near-mile stretch of road leading to his mansion, which was never built.

The saplings were planted along Woodbury’s planned driveway, and grew even as the plans for the mansion evaporated and the road became a public street.

In 1920, Frederick C. Nash, an Altadena resident, enlisted the help of the city of Pasadena and the Pasadena Kiwanis Club to illuminate a quarter-mile stretch of Santa Rosa Avenue with Christmas lights. Over the years, the stretch grew to almost a mile.

With only a few interruptions — the avenue was dark during the war years of 1944 and 1945 to conserve electricity — Christmas Tree Lane has become a signature event in the life of Altadena.

After the 2011 windstorm, things didn’t look good. But never say die to dedicated volunteers, who with county crews removed the fallen branches and restrung the lights in time for the Dec. 10 lighting ceremony. It was a grand event, and when the lights came on, the whoops and applause were louder and more heartfelt than ever.

“This community was under siege last week,” Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D- La Cañada Flintridge) said at the time. “But look at us now.”

Indeed. On Saturday, Dec. 8, the lights go on once again on Christmas Tree Lane.

Santa Rosa Avenue will be closed to traffic after 4 p.m. The lighting ceremony begins at 6 p.m., hosted by Tammy Trujillo of KPCC. The ceremony includes the Blair JROTC Color Guard, the singing of the national anthem by the Blair International Baccalaureate Singers and a performance by a local group, Daniel Landau and Smithfield Bargain.

Then all goes dark, and the lights are lit. The crowd will cheer. The John Muir High School Alumni Marching Band will strike up the drums and lead us down Christmas Tree Lane to marvel at the return of this sign of the season.

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TIMOTHY RUTT is the publisher and editor of