The majestic 50- to 60-foot trees bedecked in sparkling lights draws many visitors to St. Albans Road as well as rekindles many memories for former and current San Marino residents of this annual holiday tradition.
Former city resident Cecily Kipe’s fondest recollections of her father R. Norman Wimpress, who passed away in 2009, involve him restarting the tradition of decorating the large trees after World War II.
“We moved to St. Albans when I was 2 so that was around 1955,” Kipe said. “Sometime after that, my sister, brother and I encouraged our parents to light our tree.”
She said her mother, Susie Wimpress, grew up in South Pasadena and had memories of driving on St. Albans Road to see the lighted trees before World War II.
“During World War II, there was a blackout period,” Kipe said. “During the post wartime, nobody continued to light their trees except Mr. and Mrs. Morris Pendleton across the street.”
Local historian Ken Veronda said K.L. Carver started an effort to light the trees on St. Albans during the Depression.
“Carver was a well-to-do builder who got the neighbors on St. Albans to decorate the trees,” he said. “Most people during the Depression could not light their trees up.”
Veronda said no lights were allowed during World War II because of the fear of Japan bombing the area.
Kipe, who now lives in San Clemente, said her father was a chemical engineer and began making his own strings of lights because of the realization that the lights were too close together.
R. Norman Wimpress made original light strings for the family’s trees with help from his children.
“My dad taught us how to put the sockets on the wire,” Kife said. “My dad did the rest of the electrical work.” She said neighbors soon inquired about these new light strings and asked for help with their lights.
“When my brother was in high school, he put the lights up,” Kife remembered. “He’d do the neighbors’ lights. My brother did seven or eight trees per year until he went away to college. Other neighbor kids, as they got older, did their lights.”
Kife said putting up the lights on St. Albans was a very special thing for her family and the street.
“My dad brightened up our Christmas and made it so special for the entire block,” she said.
Currently, St. Albans resident Mary Jane Boggs-Barger is in charge of the tree lighting. She’s lived in San Marino for 50 years and on St. Albans since 1985. Boggs-Barger sends a fancy holiday flyer each year to her St. Albans neighbors with instructions for when to light the trees and for how long. Almost all of the houses cooperate.
“We’ve had the best success,” Boggs-Barger said. “Everyone has been so cooperative. Every time we had a new family, we’d have a holiday party to introduce them to the people on the street.”
When the trees were smaller, families including the Talts were able to decorate them.
“When we were younger, my brothers Mark, Brad and I, were the ones who put up the lights on our tree,” City Councilman Steve Talt said. “We would usually do it during Thanksgiving weekend. One of us would go up the middle of the tree to the top and the other two would be on the ground. Fortunately, I never went up the tree because Brad and Mark were lighter. The person on the tree, would throw down a rope, and we would tie a line on and then the up person would pull it up. The up person would then circle the tree with the first few lines, much like an inside tree, and then for the lower branches we would merely tear drop or loop them. It took some patience, which none of us had in spades, but we could get it done in a day. The up person would always get a little more money, mainly for having to watch the guys on the ground talk to their friends, who were always dropping by to ask how it was going, or watch us run inside to check on the football scores. All in all, I look back on it with fondness. But then again, I was always on the ground.”
Now the residents pay someone to put up the lights. San Marino native Ken Link decorates most of the trees for the St. Albans residents.
St. Albans resident Linda Chang said she’s been paying someone to string her lights since she moved to the street, though the price has gone up throughout the years.
“It’s fantastic,” she said. “People in the community love it. We love doing it. Before we moved here 40 years ago, I drove my kids to look at the lights, never thinking I was going to live here one day.”
Boggs-Barger said she thinks the St. Albans tree-decorating and holiday parties have brought the residents together.
“It’s amazing how the tradition stayed and has been so enjoyable for everyone,” Boggs-Barger said. “It’s quite a wonderful arrangement we have on this street. It’s brought so much pleasure to everyone.”