For many, the holidays are a stressful time of the year. Add to that a move to a new neighborhood or the extra tightening of the family budget and things will definitely not feel a lot like Christmas.
For one Bakersfield family of seven, Christmas 1957 was not looking to be very jolly. They had just moved into their new neighborhood and things had been rough for them the last few months as work had slowed down. The two older children understood the difficulties and why Christmas was going to come a little later for them that year. But the three little ones, well, they believed that Santa would surely bring them a real tree even if he were not able to bring them any presents just yet. The problem though was that for the first time ever, the family could not even afford a Christmas tree, let alone toys and gifts.
For almost a decade, then-Mayor Manuel Carnakis dreamed of bringing Bakersfield its very own Christmas Tree Lane. It took 10 years for that dream to become a reality when the City Council finally approved his request in December 1956.
But Carnakis was not alone in his mission.
In fact, it would not have been possible that year if not for the generosity and Christmas spirit of Dr. Robert Scherb. The doctor appeared before the City Council on Dec. 17, 1956, and offered to pay the electricity bill to light up the 80-foot deodar tree located on the Truxtun Avenue island at B Street in front of his clinic.
From that one lit tree, the hope of a new tradition began.
With just 152 days left until Christmas 1957, the City Council faced the possibility of a shortage of funds for an extended Christmas Tree Lane. Carnakis, now a councilman, championed for the extension of Christmas Tree Lane and his persistence paid off. After many back-and-forth sessions between the council and the business community, a solution was found.
That December, with the help of the Bakersfield Fire Department and its 85-foot ladders, 12,212 feet of 12-strand wire were strung on nine living Christmas trees located along Truxtun Avenue between A and D streets. Each year, for the next couple of years, Christmas Tree Lane extended just a little further until it ceased to exist in the early 1960s.
But what about the fate of the family that was struggling in 1957?
It seems that things found a way of working themselves out a bit. In the hopes of creating a Christmas wonderland of lights for the city, Christmas Tree Lane provided just a little more spirit of the season that year.
In the editorial section of The Californian on Dec. 29, 1957, a letter sent to Carnakis was shared. The writer explained that she had not connected their new address with the Christmas Tree Lane project as they were new to the neighborhood, but the first evening that the trees were lit up, the three youngest children ran to her full of excitement. It seems that Santa did not forget them after all. They exclaimed as they took her to the front window: “Mother, Santa has brought us the very biggest, most beautiful tree we’ve ever had. It’s so big we couldn’t get it in the house.”
The letter was signed simply, “I am a grateful mother.” ￼