As we wrap up a difficult year, we thought we would share a little Christmas cheer from the past. Herewith our Top Ten favorite images of Christmas trees from our OpenSFHistory collection (and a bonus one from our outsidelands.org collection).
Many of you surely remember just how much the local denizens would light up West Portal Avenue during the holiday season. Christmas trees on the poles holding the wires for the streetcars. Lights on the support wires. It looks like a picture out of It’s A Wonderful Life. This is West Portal Avenue between Vicente and 14th Avenue and dates from 1947.
Nothing says Christmas is near like Christmas trees lined up for sale on the sidewalk. This 1956 image shows that, even then, stores were putting white flocking on trees to create the illusion of a white Christmas that has happened just once in recorded San Francisco history. None of us remember that day because it was a little before our time. On December 25, 1856, a storm dropped an estimated 2.5 inches of snow on the City.
Civic Center Plaza and City Hall have long been decorated at Christmas time with a tree and lights. We have a number of images of Christmas trees in the Civic Center, but this image, likely from the mid-1930s, has always made a big impression on us. The lights and Christmas trees of City Hall are perfectly reflected in the still waters of the pool in the Plaza. There is a grand elegance to the image that we wish we could find today.
Long before there was a UN Plaza to the east of the Civic Center, there apparently was an empty lot for some period of time in that area. Like the rare empty lots in the City today, come December, this lot was used to sell Christmas trees back in the 1920s. There were many more empty lots in those days and the Outside Lands was still in the infancy of its development. So we imagine that there were many Christmas tree lots dotting the city then, as not everybody had a car then to go get their tree.
If you’ve ever been up to Twin Peaks for its fabulous views, you may wonder why the viewing area is known as Christmas Tree Point. Beginning in 1927, the San Francisco Examiner put up a large 120-foot Christmas tree there and it became a big deal for a few years. City employees and some civic groups got involved. A special entrance gateway and floodlights were put up. Buses brought children from orphanages. However, there was a backlash against cutting down such magnificent tall trees, so in 1931, the City instead designated a living tree as an official Christmas tree. That tree was located at…
…McLaren Lodge at the northwest corner of Stanyan and Fell Streets. Every December, the big Monterey Pine tree in front of McLaren Lodge gets trimmed. It makes for a magical entrance to Golden Gate Park at this time of the year. This has been going on for a long time as you can see with this December 1932 image. We wonder if John McLaren, who ruled Golden Gate Park for 53 years and who notably disdained having monuments in the Park, appreciated having this huge tree of lights right outside his residence.
The Verdier brothers arrived in San Francisco in 1850 on a boat called the Ville de Paris (City of Paris) with silk, lace, and fine alcoholic beverages and sold everything right off the ship. One brother went back to Paris and brought another load over and they established the City of Paris store. Over the years it grew and they eventually built a Beaux-Arts building at the corner of Geary and Stockton diagonally across from Union Square. Every Christmas, a huge Christmas tree was put up under their stained glass dome. The City of Paris closed in the 1970s and the building was sold to Nieman Marcus. Despite preservation efforts, the original building was demolished in 1981 and replaced.
From the City of Paris department store, we walk across the street to see the Christmas tree that people are likely the most familiar with today. San Francisco’s annual tradition of erecting a large Christmas tree in Union Square is one that continues today. Here, a huge crowd is gathered to see the Union Square tree in 1929. Fortunately for them, there was no social distancing required that year.
The Hotel Chronicle was located on Mission Street by the Mint and across the street from the San Francisco Chronicle building (we’re guessing the hotel got its name from its neighbor). Back in the 1950s, you could get a room there for $1.25 a night or $6.75 for a week. The Christmas tree they put up above their entrance may not be as grand as some others, but the tree and the window decorations make for a nice holiday touch for the people staying there.
Here’s a different kind of Christmas tree. In November 1964, Willie Mays visited Children’s Hospital in Oakland for the Christmas Tree Benefit Auction. For the event, they made a Christmas tree out of a Willie Mays bat and baseballs. There were 20 baseballs on the tree, representing each of the then 20 major league baseball teams with autographs from players on those teams. The baseball Christmas tree and a glove that Mays had used for 3 years were auctioned off to benefit the hospital.
That completes our OpenSFHistory Top Ten Christmas tree images, but we have a BONUS Christmas tree image from our outsidelands.org collection.
This is one of our favorite holiday images. Henry Pease owned the Associated Gas Station at the corner of Junipero Serra Boulevard and Ocean Avenue and he really went all out with the Christmas decorations. From Christmas trees and Santa in the middle to wreathes in many windows and Christmas villages on the roof. Unfortunately, the gas station is long gone, but we wish we were around back in the day to see this. We hope everyone is able to have a safe and wonderful holiday this year!