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Christmas in October? South Coast Plaza’s 96-foot fir hits town

South Coast PlazaSouth Coast Plaza's 96-foot-tall Christmas tree on Monday finished a 650-mile trek from near Mt. Shasta in Northern California to Town Center Park in Costa Mesa, across the street from the mall.

The white fir — which rolled into town on the largest trailer allowed on the road — will be prepped in coming weeks with about 20,000 multicolored lights for the shopping center's 31st annual tree-lighting ceremony Nov. 15. The ceremony always falls on the Thursday before Thanksgiving, which this year required an early installation date, South Coast Plaza publicist Lee Healy said.

What started out as "a wild idea" three decades ago has become an integral part of Orange County's holiday season, said South Coast Plaza's director of property management, Stanley Taeger.

Taeger, who sported a red Christmas tree-patterned tie Monday morning, said the yearly lighting ceremony is "about family," and "not about glitz and glamour."

That's why the tree, which now stands among poplars and sycamore trees outside the Westin and South Coast Repertory, never makes its way into the shopping center itself.

"We don't want it to be a commercial, get-you-here-to-shop [thing]," he said.

All told, Taeger said, the project will cost about $80,000.

Early Monday morning, a few kids looked out from hotel-room windows as the 20,000-pound tree was hoisted several stories into the air from its parking spot near the Westin South Coast Plaza valet port, then slowly lowered into an 8-foot hole.

An Indian-summer sun began to shine as a crew from Victor's Custom Christmas Trees finished up about 9:30 a.m.

Lou Michelson, 71, paused on his daily walk with his silky black-and-white Japanese chin dog, Aggie, to snap a few cellphone pictures of the proceedings. He said he looks forward to the holiday season — even if it does seem to creep earlier every year.

"Oh, I love the tree," he said. "I don't think it's ever too early anymore."

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-- Jill Cowan, Times Community News

Photo: Crew members from Victor’s Custom Christmas Trees hoist a 96-foot white fir from Mt. Shasta into place at Town Center Park in Costa Mesa. Credit: Scott Smeltzer / Times Community News

 
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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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