On November 11, 1950, officials at the brand new Northgate Center light up the world’s largest Christmas tree. For years during the twentieth century, community boosters had held the “World’s Biggest Competitions” where anything that was grown or could be made in an extra-large size was touted as the largest. This included Christmas trees, and in 1949 Bellingham proudly displayed what he claimed to be the tallest Christmas tree in the world. The following spring, Northgate Center (later called Northgate Mall) opened just north of the Seattle city limits. As Christmas approached that year, it was only natural for the new mall (one of the first of its kind in the United States) to want to hoist its own tallest tree – and that’s what it does, by installing and lighting a great wonder. In 2021, he still holds the record for the largest cut Christmas tree in the world.
The largest Christmas tree in the world
As the new Northgate Shopping Center prepared to celebrate its first Christmas in 1950, the Northgate Company, which owned the shopping center, and the Bon Marché, the main tenant of the shopping center, wanted to mark the occasion with a feat that would put definitely Northgate on the map. The ‘world’s tallest’ Christmas tree contests had been all the rage for several years, and as Jim Douglas (1909-2005), president of the Northgate Company in 1950, later recalled in a popular story for HistoryLink: “It has been suggested that Northgate should end this World’s Largest Christmas Tree Contest. We had to raise a tree so tall that no one would ever try to beat the record that would be set by Northgate “(” Northgate Beginnings…) again.
Charles Beech of Auburn was hired as the prime contractor and is said to have inspected 1,000 trees before selecting a 212-foot-tall Douglas fir located on the Weyerhaeuser farms about 30 miles east of Enumclaw. The evergreen was estimated to be around 50,000 pounds and would have been 286 or 287 years old. Felling the tree took almost a day. It was carefully cut on Friday 10 November and lowered with cables guided by a 23 ton tractor onto log skids, where it was then loaded onto a lorry with a drawbar trailer behind it for the journey to Northgate.
Led by a police escort, the 70 mile trek began at dawn the next day. The tree passed through Enumclaw, Kent and Renton over the weekend. The tight turns were particularly difficult to navigate, while the hills with pronounced bumps in the road were also a challenge: as the truck climbed over the hill and began to descend on the other side, the rear log struck the sidewalk behind it. and dragged the ground. This required a crane following the convoy to step in and lift the log or, in some cases, the truck and trailer themselves. As the truck and trailer descended the hill, the tip of the trailing tree rose high enough to threaten the power lines above the head.
Nonetheless, the tree reached Seattle largely without incident on Monday, November 13, but encountered two obstacles as it approached Northgate. The first occurred when a traffic cop refused to let the trailer make a planned turn from Bothell Way (now Lake City Way NE) onto E 125th Street due to heavy traffic. After a long detour, the tree reached the mall at dusk, where it encountered its biggest obstacle yet – it couldn’t make the turn from 1st Avenue NE to Northgate without hitting houses or buildings. electric poles nearby. Once again the crane was put into service. At one point, the trailer holding the top of the tree overturned by a hair’s breadth. But after a three to four hour struggle in the cold rain, tired workers finally secured the tree in the mall.
A record for the ages
Then came the task of preparing the tree. For ease of transportation, it had been mowed off all of its branches (except a small tuft at its top) before being brought to Seattle, making it look more like a giant toothpick. The original plan had been to wire about 200 to 300 branches to the tree, but zealous workers continued to add more branches. They eventually appropriated branches from about six other trees before completing the work. The finished evergreen tree featured nearly 2,000 limbs and 3,600 multi-colored lights, along with two flashing red blinking lights on top to warn stray planes. Secured by 3,600 feet of three-quarter-inch cable, the tree was hoisted next to Bon Marché near the northeast corner of the mall shortly before Thanksgiving.
Jim Douglas later recalled that the total cost was $ 27,000 (equal to $ 300,000 in 2021), which was nearly ten times the budget of $ 3,000. But no one complained, at least not publicly, because aside from civic pride, there was another reason to get it right. Someone in Northgate had contacted Life magazine to suggest that she cover the story of the Christmas tree. In 1950 Life was considered one of the best magazines in the country, and at a time when print media had more influence on audiences than it would have been a decade later, coverage by Life was really a big deal. Sure enough, the magazine published the story – a one paragraph article and two images in its issue two weeks before Christmas.
The tree was lit in front of a happy crowd on Friday, November 24. In December, the new mall and the tallest Christmas tree in the world brought shoppers and revelers all over Northgate and helped the mall enjoy a successful Christmas, one that Douglas later wrote. ” . was the turning point for Northgate. Subsequently, no one questioned the future success of the project “(” Northgate Beginnings … “). The tree remained lit every night until New Years Day 1951, and it was cut down a few days later. While there was talk of trying to save it for display the next Christmas, it turned out to be impractical.
The Northgate Tree ended the competition for the tallest Christmas tree in the world, although it is suspected that it was not so much because someone couldn’t find a taller one than changing tastes, which ultimately led to such contests. Over 70 years later, the Northgate tree is still recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records as the tallest cut Christmas tree in the world, although its height is mistakenly cited as 221 feet.
“The biggest Christmas tree” Life magazine, December 11, 1950, pp. 127-128; “The largest Christmas tree in the world has moved to Northgate” The Seattle Times, November 13, 1950, p. 7; “The tallest Christmas tree reaches Northgate,” Ibid., November 14, 1950, p. 8; HMF, “Out North at Northgate,” Ibid., November 15, 1950, p. 8; “Northgate’s tallest climbing Christmas tree” Ibid., November 20, 1950, p. 19; “Lights on,” Ibid., November 25, 1950, p. 4; “The great tree of Northgate will be cut down” Ibid., December 29, 1950, p. 5; “The largest Christmas tree in the world” The Seattle Sunday Times rotogravure, November 26, 1950, p. 6-8; HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, “Northgate Beginnings: Jim Douglas Remembers the First Year” (by Jim Douglas), https://www.historylink.org (accessed November 8, 2021); Bureau of Labor Statistics, “CPI Inflation Calculator,” website accessed November 13, 2021 (https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm); Guinness World Records website, “Tallest Christmas Tree”, accessed November 9, 2021 (https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/77271-tallest-christmas-tree).