Some of the tree-stringing crew
  • Some of the tree-stringing crew
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The first Monday after Thanksgiving, December 2, was a big day above Moonlight Beach. That’s when Encinitas local Louie Ortiz with his volunteer crew, Bob Joval and Surfer Mike, came together, as Louie has for the past 19 years, to string the lights on the city’s tallest living Christmas tree.

Located on the corner of C and 4th Streets the mighty star pine is just under 100 feet tall. The tree was planted when the neighboring house was built in 1942. Lit up, it can be seen as far away as I-5 at Encinitas Boulevard, or from any bluff-top perch up and down the local coast.

Louie got the idea while sitting on the beach in 1994, looking up at the pine. He approached the homeowner, who gave him the okay to try to light up the tree. When they plugged it in the first year, it blew out all the circuits.

The lighting of the tree is sponsored by DEMA — the Downtown Encinitas Mainstreet Association — which pays the $300 electric bill each year. The tree has its own address — 406 4th Street — because, years ago, the group had to install a separate meter for the tree.

On November 27, Louie plugged in each of the 100-foot strands of lights and checked every bulb.

Filanc Construction of Escondido has donated the cherry-picker crane and its operators’ time since the beginning. The company’s founder and tree-lighting supporter, Jack R. Filanc, passed away earlier this year. But having grown up one block from Moonlight Beach, the Filanc family, who now runs the company, continued to commit to Louie’s project.

This year, because of the tree’s growth, Filanc crane operators Victor Rodriguez and Martin Velazquez had to bring in a bigger crane —

one that would tower 120 feet above ground — to be able to string the lights from the tree top’s glowing star downward.

It was suggested by Louie that, for a one-of-a-kind journalistic photo shoot, I ride up in the crane to get the best shot of the tree. I didn’t tell him I was afraid of open heights, the likes of cherry-pickers, ski-lift gondolas, overlooking the face of tall dams, and skyscrapers’ exterior glass elevators.


Encinitas tree-light stringing

Victor safety-harnessed me in. The ascent was slow and smooth. But at around 80 feet up, my knees got warm, my ankles tightened, and my breathing got heavy. I never looked down. I probably would have passed out. I wanted to close my eyes, like I do on roller coasters, but then I wouldn’t be able to see through the camera’s lens. Victor laughed as he lowered the crane, saying we could have gone another 40 feet up.

But what a view! See for yourself. But don’t laugh at the awkward squeals of my ascent. There is a reason why real photojournalists make the big bucks.

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