Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Tree Lane ~ An 80 Year Altadena, California Tradition

The road sign post reads 'Santa Rosa Avenue' but everyone in Altadena and nearby Pasadena knows it as 'Christmas Tree Lane.'

Every year, since 1930, automobiles and walkers have journeyed up this street after dark to experience one of Southern California's most emotionally satisfying array of holiday light shows, with colorful globes hanging on the elongated branch arms of spectacular deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara) trees.

How to describe this magical experience? Think Christmas tree illustrations from Dr. Seuss' How theGrinch Stole Christmas' or Bing Crosby singing 'White Christmas' with a stand of towering snow-laden cedars in the background.

Though Christmas Tree Lane's deodars are rarely snow-laden due to the mild Southern California climate, they do come alive every year with extensive strands of 10,000 colored lights that draw visitors to the mile-long 'lane' from around the world.

What makes Christmas Tree Lane, an official California Landmark listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, special is that since 1956, Altadena's Christmas Tree Lane Community Association (CTLA) has continued this tradition on a purely volunteer basis, seeking donations to cover the electricity utility costs, and stringing and maintaining the light show through hundreds of hours of service from the efforts of local homeowners and renters, senior citizens and schoolchildren, Altadena veterans and newcomers to the community.

If you've visited Christmas Tree Lane before, why not drive by this year and recapture the magic of this "Mile of Christmas Trees?" If you've never visited, come on by and start a new family holiday tradition. The show runs nightly from dusk to midnight, now through January 6, 2010. Come see what happens when nature, technology and love converge along a foothills lane.

For directions and more details:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Mom & Pop Shop Lives on at Galco's Soda Pop Stop

When I first stepped through the doors of the building that houses Galco's Old World Grocery on York Boulevard at Avenue 57 in the Highland Park neighborhood of Northeast Los Angeles, I felt that I was walking back in history. The interior is reminiscent of 1950s grocery stores, complete with checkout stations with the old-style conveyor belts and the meat counter deli case along the back wall where sandwiches are made to order.

But instead of groceries lining the food aisles, patrons find the most amazing collection of soda pop bottles and beers imaginable!

The only Los Angeles business to be profiled in the recently released book, The Mom & Pop Store,, Galco's Soda Pop Stop is more than just a David v. Goliath story of small grocer v. big food chain. Rather, owner John Nese, son of the grocery's founder, has transformed this market with a 53 year history in the neighborhood into a bastion for small, independent bottling plants around the country whose product has been pushed off the shelves of the 'chains' by the Coca-Cola and Pepsi empires.

According to Nese, there were once over 3,500 bottlers in the country. Now, just a handful remain, and thanks to Galco's, there is shelf life for their product ~ everything from Dad's to Grape NEHI ~ from Nesbitt's Orange to Route 66 Root Beer (the famous route passes by less than a mile away).

I also found it interesting that virtually all these sodas (as we West Coasters call them) or pops (as the East Coast-Midwesterners say) are made with cane sugar, not corn syrup, and I must admit, you immediately notice the difference in the smooth, clean taste.
In addition to almost 350 varieties of soda pop, Galco's also carries almost 500 varieties of artisan beers from around the world, which I'll return to sample another day.

Best of all, Galco's offers the warm feeling of a family business where John immediately comes over to help and introduce himself while his grandsons help stock product on the 'low' shelves. John and I even shared a couple tall tales about the nearby Arroyo Seco River, where he caught crawfish when he was a child, before the City channelized the stream in concrete.

Heading to a music jam at York Studios? Joining the hipsters at Johnny's? Looking for a great beverage to go with that taco truck meal? Galco's Soda Pop Shop has the perfect drink for you, available either in a six-pack or individual bottle.
Don't live in LA? No worries, because Galco's will ship their soda pop to you anywhere (sorry, no beer online orders).