Holidays begin as crooked Christmas tree arrives in Ocean Beach
by DAVE SCHWAB
Published - 11/30/21 - 01:00 PM | 4708 views | 10 10 comments | 46 46 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Some Ocean Beach Town Council members watch as the star is positioned on top of the OB Christmas tree on Tuesday morning. THOMAS MELVILLE/PENINSULA BEACON
Some Ocean Beach Town Council members watch as the star is positioned on top of the OB Christmas tree on Tuesday morning. THOMAS MELVILLE/PENINSULA BEACON
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It is urban lore that the annual donated crooked Christmas tree in Ocean Beach always leans to the left.

And this year’s specimen, furnished by Ocean Beach Realtor Catrina Russell, which was firmly embedded in the sandy beach at the foot of Newport Avenue on Nov. 30, is no exception.

Russell related how she and her boyfriend bought a property in 1999 on Long Branch Avenue that a friend of hers had rented previously and planted a small pine tree in the front yard.

“We moved in and I used to decorate that tree every year for Christmas without even needing a ladder,” recalled Russell. “It was cute and I have always loved that tree. The property has a very special place in our hearts because that is where we lived when we got married and had our two children. We have watched that tree grow over the years, and it is now time to remove it.”

Added Russell: “It is so big and crooked now that we are worried it poses a threat to our next-door neighbor. We have resisted removing it because we love the tree but now have no choice. The only thing that makes us feel better about it is that it is going to be the OB Christmas tree this year.

“I have been friends with the girl that planted it since I was in seventh grade and she is the reason I moved to OB. So the whole circle feels very special to us. We love the fact that a little piece of our family's history in OB can now be part of our favorite celebration of the year – the OB Holiday Parade.”

That story is typical of the varied donated Christmas trees that Larry Thayer, now more a tree “consultant” than a tree “mover,” has experienced in transplanting and moving trees to the sand in OB over the years.

“I got involved with it (Christmas tree) about 20 years ago,” said Thayer noting, “It was Claudia Jack in the Ocean Beach MainStreet Office then that got me into it.”

In terms of picking out just the right specimen tree, Thayer noted: “We like to get them somewhere in OB. The closer the better. Some of them are pretty big.”

When a tree is offered for donation, it’s Thayer’s job to inspect it first. “We just look to see if it’s feasible (to move),” he said. “Is it too big to be taken out safely? That way we decide if that tree is a good candidate.”

Thayer recalled the first tree he helped move was on Adair Street and took 4 1/2-hours to move. But Russell’s donated tree this year will be a cinch compared to that one, he said.

“It’s not a very big tree even though it looks kind of big,” Thayer said. “This tree is maybe 30 feet, and we’ve had trees that were 40 to 50 feet. If we start at 7 a.m., it will probably only take us a couple of hours, with 10 minutes drive to the beach, to get it moved over and put in the ground.”

Thayer likes the smaller donated Christmas trees because they have that “Charlie Brown factor” making them all the more lovable.

Concerning donated trees being left-leaning, Thayer commented, “They all want to go every which way or the other.”

Thayer said transporting the Christmas tree to the beach every year has become a spectator sport. “It’s a really big deal for the residents who know it’s the OB tree and like to take pictures and honk their horns when it goes by,” he said.

Corey Bruins, Ocean Beach Town Council president and parade chair, spoke of the process involved in implanting the big tree in the sand each year.

“We keep a list on file of folks who’ve indicated they’d like to have their trees donated,” he said adding once a suitable tree is found, Bob’s Crane comes out to transport the tree along with the help of San Diego Police Department.

“There’s a big giant drum underneath the sand,” noted Bruins. “We pull the top off and plant the tree in the ground.”

Bruins said it’s no accident the community’s Christmas tree is crooked.

“We put guidelines on the tree, kind of like how you put tension on a tent to make sure it stays up in the wind,” he said. “But when the tree doesn’t have a root structure anymore, you don’t have that tension, and it’s manually just going to start to lean a little bit.”

Added Bruins, “Last year the tree looked pretty straight when it first went in. We had several folks come by and complain.”

ORIGIN OF OB’S XMAS TREE & PARADE

OB’s Christmas tree planting is a tradition dating back more than four decades started by one of OB’s cornerstone businesses, The James Gang printers. “Actually, it was my late brother, Rich James, who started it,” said Mike James of his family’s business and their historic contribution to the beach community’s annual holiday tree planting and festive parade. “Rich brought the first tree down in 1980 from Mount Shasta, a 70-foot Star pine,” said Mike. “It was his idea to have a giant tree at the beach.”

That first tree planting was what got the first OB parade kick-started as well.

“The night after they put the first tree in the sand, my brothers went from bar to bar in OB handing out kazoos that you hum into and makes noises,” Mike said. “They all marched doing this impromptu parade down the middle of Newport Avenue to celebrate the tree.”

There has been a tree, and a parade, ever since in Ocean Beach.
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