Looking Back: Willow Glen’s Hilltop Christmas Tree

Photo of an artificial Christmas tree lit at night on the First Baptist Church hill in San Jose in December of 1964.

In November of 1965, my family moved into the Meadowbrook housing tract (now Canoas Garden) in the southeast corner of of Willow Glen. The tract is sometimes referred to as “Birdland” because of all the streets named after birds (Nightingale, Redbird, Hummingbird, etc.). One unique feature is its location at the foot of a hill that is part of the San Juan Bautista Hills. This group of hills lies between Almaden Expressway and Monterey Road and is home to the Oakhill CemeteryCounty CommunicationsCommunications Hill (with the cell phone tower), and the First Baptist Church (the Church on the Hill).

The hill above our housing tract had been a nine-hole golf course in the early 1960s named the Ironwood Golf and Swim Club. The property was purchased by the First Baptist Church in 1963. In 1964, PG & E planted a power pole in the middle of an area of the hilltop that would eventually become the location of the new First Baptist church. The church’s congregation decorated the pole with lights creating a Christmas tree that could be seen as far as 15 miles away. It was lit for the first time in December of 1964 in a ceremony presided over by the mayor of San Jose, Joseph Pace. This event apparently recurred for a number of years until the new church was constructed in the late 1960s. Though I lived right beneath the hill, I’m afraid I don’t remember the huge electric tree at all. Some years ago however, the church began stringing Christmas lights in a fashion similar to the original electric tree.

Photos: Above is the original electric tree in 1964, courtesy of the First Baptist Church. Below is the modern-day tree on the roof of the church in 2012.

modern-day tree on the roof of the church in 2012.

Further Reading in the California Room: