Woodbury ranch superintendent Thomas Hoag had no idea the three-foot seedlings he was planting would someday become a major Yuletide attraction. It was 1885, and Hoag and his Chinese American ranch hands were building a driveway that climbed a steady grade from the Pasadena city limit up to the ranch house of Altadena founders Frederick and John Woodbury. Sweating under the June sun, Hoag and his workers dug ditches on each side of the drive and lined them with granite stones transported by mule from nearby Rubio Canyon. Behind the ditches they planted roughly 150 young deodar cedars, which Hoag had grown from seed in the Woodburys' greenhouse over the previous two years.
Thirty-five years later, in 1920, the Woodburys' driveway had become Santa Rosa Avenue, the ranch had evolved into now suburban Altadena, and the fragile seedlings had matured into robust cedar trees. Their conical shape and low-slung branches inspired Pasadena merchant Fred Nash to transform the Himalayan conifers into Christmas trees. Enlisting the aid of the Pasadena Kiwanis Club, Nash festooned the trees with red, white, blue, and green electric lights, and an annual holiday tradition was born.