Lighting of the 96-footer to take place Nov. 21.

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A 96-foot high white fir is in place for the holidays near the Westin South Coast Plaza. The 20,000-pound tree traveled almost 600 miles to get here.
COSTA MESA – The 96-foot, 20,000-pound white fir hoisted upright at South Coast Plaza Monday took the honor as the first Christmas tree raised at Orange County shopping centers.

The tree traveled nearly 600 miles from Mount Shasta in Northern California to Costa Mesa, a journey lasting two days. It was hauled in the largest trailer allowable under California law after being cut about two weeks ago.

Go and Do

South Coast Plaza will light its Christmas tree at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 21 at Town Center Park adjacent to Westin South Coast Plaza hotel. Santa Claus will arrive, and the Orange County High School for the Arts will put on a Christmas-themed production.

Sprucing up a Christmas tree

When the South Coast Plaza Christmas tree was raised Monday, it wasn’t in tip-top shape for Christmas. That’s what nearly 600 miles on the road from Mount Shasta will do.

But over the coming days, holes will be drilled in the trunk and infill branches will be inserted from other trees of the same and similar species. The tree will be sprayed with a fire retardant, though it will not be painted green.

As long as the top half to third of the tree looks full and healthy, the bottom half is easy to spruce up, according to a South Coast Plaza official.

The trees are actually selected three to five years in advance as part of a forest-thinning project. The tree will be decorated only with lights and a star.

By the numbers:

96 feet: height of tree

20,000 pounds: weight of tree

20,000: number of lights to decorate tree

600 miles: distance tree traveled from Mount Shasta

12: number of workers it took to install the tree

200 tons: weight of crane used to hoist the tree.

The tree arrived Wednesday and was quietly raised Monday morning with the help of a crane.

South Coast Plaza Executive Director of Marketing Debra Gunn Downing denied any competitive spirit directed toward Fashion Island. That mall’s tree is expected in early November.

“I don’t think we have a rivalry,” she said. “This has been a family tradition for 32 years. The Segerstrom family wanted to have a community event surrounding the lighting of the Christmas tree.”

South Coast Plaza is owned by the Segerstrom family, while Fashion Island is owned by the Irvine Co.

But when the South Coast Plaza tree is compared with the Fashion Island tree?

“I know that it’s the most beautiful,” Gunn Downing said.

The gauntlet has been thrown, Fashion Island.

Even with the tree in place at Town Center Park – across Bristol Street from the shopping mall and adjacent to the Westin South Coast Plaza hotel – work is by no means done. It will take a full month to trim, fireproof and decorate the tree. The lighting will take place at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 21.

South Coast Plaza has worked with the same company for years – Victor’s Custom Christmas Trees, based in Laguna Niguel – to select its Christmas tree.

The trees are part of a forest-thinning project, Gunn Downing said.

“They’re not taking a tree out of the forest unnecessarily,” she said. “Some trees are designated based on which trees have reached their life cycle, so other younger trees can come up.”

The tree is about the same size as those in previous years.

Even though Halloween is two weeks away and Thanksgiving more than a month away, the tree-raising marks the beginning of the holiday season for many at the center.

“I hope that it helps them enjoy and embrace the holiday season,” Gunn Downing said. “There’s a lot to be grateful for in Orange County where we live, and I hope people stop to think of that when they see the tree.”