For 18 years the large pine at the southern end of Moonlight beach has been decorated with lights and a star to celebrate the holiday season. Commemorated as a limited edition Christmas ornament by DEMA, the pine was originally planted by the Danforth family back in 1952 and now stands 85 feet tall. Once decorated, it is thought to be the largest living Christmas tree in the county and has become an iconic start to the holiday season for many of the locals.After nearly two decades, the annual decoration of the Moonlight Beach Christmas Tree has become a local tradition, though few know the man responsible for beginning the tradition.For as many years, Luis Ortiz has been helping to keep the streets of Encinitas clean.
Rising early he makes his daily rounds sweeping litter off the streets, tidying up the flowerbeds damaged by the late night revelers and putting the sidewalks back in order for the residents and tourists.
A long time local, Ortiz and friends originally began the tradition by decorating a lifeguard tower down at Moonlight beach.
“Back then, it was just Robert Dale Dowe Jr., Edy Sandoval, Jose Morales and me,” Ortiz said. “We were just a bunch of guys who hung out down at Moonlight Beach.”
He described hanging ornaments and tinsel from the lifeguard tower. After a couple of years, a ranger noticed the trend and pointed Ortiz and friends towards a power supply. “He pointed at the socket and then, you know, kind of turned his back,” he snickers.
In the first few years, the Encinitas Fire department assisted with a ladder truck to help decorate, but any great Christmas miracle requires a multitude of magic elves, and as the tree grew, so did the number of elves necessary to make the magic happen. Ortiz relies upon a few dozen of his magical helpers, collecting donations from the community to help pay the cost of upkeep and maintenance as well as to volunteer equipment and time in the effort to decorate the tree.
Preserving the magic in the off-season, Keith Harrison stores the lights in his home near the beach.
Each year, he and his son help Ortiz to carefully stretch the lines, check the bulbs, and prepare the strings of Christmas lights for the tree. “The more you take care of it, the more it lasts,” said Ortiz. Careful to keep the bulbs intact, and free from scratches, Harrison and son have volunteered their time and hallways to ensure that Ortiz has a space to work his holiday magic.
For 14 years Jack Filanc of Filanc Construction has donated a cherry picker to assist in the decoration and placing the star atop the tree. Ken Lord of LBL constructors has helped with electrician work, and Encinitas glass has volunteered ladders.
With the assistance of his many magic holiday elves, Ortiz has been able to carry on a tradition started among a few friends and has since spread to an entire community.
Andy Tomacelli is an Encinitas resident.