For those that have been following this story, here’s some of what we know about the much fought over Moreton Bay Fig Tree on Foothill Boulevard and the cool old house it fronts.
Let’s go back to the original attraction for Easterners to the Crescenta Valley – the air.
The clean dry air of the valley was famous to health-seekers worldwide. That’s why Dr. Benjamin Briggs, after an exhaustive search, established his hospital here. The only cure for lung disease, from simple asthma to deadly tuberculosis, was a healthy climate.
Our air was considered a preventative as well as a cure. Health resorts sprang up, centered around the big La Crescenta Hotel, often known as the Silver Tree Inn, named for an unusual tree with a silvery bark that grew there. The hotel was grand, with ornate trappings and a grand piano in its lobby. The rich and famous the world over came to “take the air” and the Silver Tree Inn was frequented by those who used their lung power – opera singers, religious leaders and politicians.
What kind of a tree was the “silver tree” contained in the hotel’s name? Of that we have no record, but a Moreton Bay Fig Tree would be a good guess. A shipload of those trees had reached San Pedro from Australia in the early 1870s to be planted all across the southland as an exotic oddity. The bark is a light grey, and smooth. To a hotel owner looking for an exotic attraction, the stretch to “silver tree” wasn’t a far one.
The Silver Tree Inn was located at Foothill and Rosemont. That section of the valley became a desirable location and mansions sprang up around the hotel. Professor White built his Villa Espiransa across the intersection, and to the west a large Victorian was built for a former missionary to China (this later became the infamous Kimball Sanitarium).
In 1915, famous artist Seymour Thomas built “Cuddle Doon” to the north. In that same year a wealthy Mrs. Eaton built a mansion across Foothill from the Silver Tree Inn at 2620 Foothill, our property in question. The grounds behind the mansion were an olive grove, and it’s these olive trees that grow along Mary Street today. The neighborhood was a center for the arts and literature; it was the site of our first library and a Shakespearian Society.
It is probably at this time that our much fought over tree began its life, based on its size relative to another tree of the same variety at the Lanterman House in La Cañada, also 100 years old.
Over the years the house has served as a retail store and offices, and the tree grew to magnificent proportions. The Silver Tree Inn and each of the surrounding mansions has fallen to progress, until only this house remains. This house is but a trace of what once was the center of culture for the Crescenta Valley.
The tree, until recently bigger than the house, became a fixture in the minds of locals. When the City of Glendale polled CV’ers about what was special about North Glendale, this tree was mentioned several times, even though it’s outside Glendale’s boundaries.
People identify the tree’s loss with the coming of a colder, more urban Foothill Boulevard – all business and no charm.
Whether the tree survives this current owner is anyone’s guess, but what will survive is our valley’s renewed commitment to developing Foothill not with our wallets, but with our hearts.