by Woody LaBounty
A closer look at OpenSFHistory images.
On the northeast edge of San Francisco’s Twin Peaks is Christmas Tree Point, a promontory with a parking lot and a view of the city’s skyline that has been captured by tourists’ cameras for a century.
The holiday-themed name is ninety years old this year, originating in 1927 with a yuletide promotional scheme by the San Francisco Examiner. The self-described “Monarch of the Dailies” sponsored the erection of an enormous “Forest Monarch” Christmas tree on the point that year with full cooperation and participation by city government.
Public Works employees pose with the tree on Twin Peaks, December 20, 1927. (wnp36.03580, Horace Chaffee photograph, copy negative made from print A732 of Department of Public Works book 41, courtesy of a private collector.)
The newspaper partnered with many other groups and companies to cut, move, and electrify the tree, decorate the approach on Twin Peaks Boulevard, and stage connected holiday festivities. City of San Francisco employees from multiple agencies worked on the “Examiner Tree.”
The first tree, a 120-foot-tall fir, was cut down by the Albion Lumber Company in Mendocino County. Moving the tree to the city must have been a tough logistical problem because it was bisected halfway up the trunk, denuded of all of it branches, and carted up to Twin Peaks in pine-needled piles by a caravan of trucks.
Public works and park employees “rebuilt” the tree by connecting the trunk halves with an iron collar and drilling holes to stick the branches back in. Park Department superintendent John McLaren oversaw the addition of extra boughs to “fluff out” the fir. Nature was further improved upon with colored streamers, three thousand lights, ornaments, giant metal candles, and fake snow. Thirty floodlights encircled the scene.
The South of Market Boys, an influential fraternal and charitable society of men with roots in the old working class neighborhood, helped sponsor a circus show for children and families at Kezar Stadium in conjunction with the tree’s lighting. Shell Oil created a fifty-foot-tall Santa Claus gateway to the point. Drayage companies, electric corporations, and contractors all donated time and money for the effort. The Pioneer Auto Bus Company ferried orphanage groups, children’s clubs, and the city’s Municipal Band up to the site for the big unveiling and lighting on December 19, 1927.
At 7:30 pm that night Mayor James Rolph ducked under the overhanging branches and flipped a master switch on a control panel at the trunk base. “A sudden flare of light,” the Examiner wrote the next day, “and fairyland!”
The tree could be seen from Marin County to the East Bay. It was illuminated from sundown until three a.m. each night through the holidays.
The Examiner tree returned for a couple more years before a movement against cutting trees for Christmas created a new San Francisco tradition. The Outdoor Christmas Tree Association was formed by Clarence F. Pratt in 1928 with a mission to promote the yuletide decoration of living trees. The groups called the cutting of Christmas trees “slaughter of the innocents.”
The idea took off nationwide and the City of San Francisco got on board in 1931. The large Monterey Pine in front of McLaren Lodge became the official city Christmas tree. Its decoration and lighting continues to be a holiday tradition today.