La Verne and its ‘Magic Christmas Tree’

NPR and Slate teamed up for a feature titled “The Best Merry Scary Christmas Movies,” the capper of which was “Magic Christmas Tree,” an ultra-low budget movie from 1964 described by reporter Marc Jordan Legan as an example of “deeply rich bad cinema.”

“Shot in lovely La Verne, Calif.,” Legan says, the movie “looks like it was made for about 12 bucks.”

The plot involves a boy who rescues a cat from a tree for a woman reputed to be a witch. He falls, hits his head and the movie suddenly, a la “Wizard of Oz,” switches from B&W to color. The witch gives him a ring with a secret compartment holding a magic seed that, if planted “beneath the wishbone of a Thanksgiving turkey in the dark of the moon,” will become “a magic Christmas tree.”

Soon, the magic Christmas tree indeed appears. “And of course, since it’s magic, it can talk!” Legan enthuses. But, he wonders, why does it have “the voice of an irritated antiques dealer”?

Be that as it may, the movie takes an even stranger turn when the boy wanders into the woods and is accosted by a burly giant, who nearly kidnaps the boy. (“Suddenly ‘Magic Christmas Tree’ turns into ‘Deliverance,’” Legan says.) The boy escapes and promises never to be greedy again. Gosh, how heartwarming.

Legan advises showing “Magic Christmas Tree” toward the end of a holiday party if guests won’t take the hint to leave.

Perhaps, but now I really want to see “Magic Christmas Tree.” Listen to the NPR story’s audio and then watch the video here.

Thanks to readers Don J. and Eric, we also have a 9-minute YouTube clip. Eric advises to let the thing load and then skip ahead to 5:15, when we get four straight minutes of La Verne circa 1964. I see signs for Mellin’s, a cafe named Pat’s and something that looks like Millions, plus the Fire Department.

Can any longtime La Verne residents clue us in about the route taken and the landmarks seen?

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  • Eric

    David:

    I did a little searching and found a clip from the movie. What is fascinating is the scene which the boy causes havoc in Old Town La Verne. A good view of the old shops, and the City Hall/Fire/Police department building, and one of La Verne’s old fire engines.

    As the first part of the clip is as bad as you said, you might want to skip to the 5:15 mark of the video found here:

    http://my.spill.com/video/magic-christmas-tree-1964

    [Eric, thanks for the research. I've added the YouTube link directly to the entry. -- DA]

  • Eric

    In the clip, the boy starts headed south on D Street, a block north of Bonita (you can see the former Wells Fargo Bank/current ULV bookstore).

    He continues south on D and then into the former Alpha Beta parking lot, at the southwest corner of Third and D. He then crosses Third Street to the City Hall/Police/Fire Department, which is where the current Public Safety building stands.

    Then he headed east on Third Street, and back north on E Street. There are obviously a lot of cuts, and repeats of the same footage (they really needed to stretch the movie out to an hour, I guess…)

    [That's helpful. I'll go back and watch it again with those directions in mind. -- DA]

  • Kristin McConnell

    I don’t live in La Verne, but I’m there every week for church, and graduated from ULV with my Master’s degree, so I’m familiar. Everything that Eric says above is exactly as I saw it. It was very cool to see my church. LOL

    Did you catch the bit where they flipped an image? It’s of the fire truck racing down the street. You know it’s flipped when the painted “STOP” on the street says, “qots”. LOL :)

  • Nancy

    Just a few additions to the above. The old Alpha Beta market stood where the University of La Verne’s library is now located. If you notice on the side of the market is advertised “S&H Green Stamps.” Do you remember them?

    Also, the fire truck passes Hamilton’s Drug Store, a well renowned family owned drug store located in Pomona as well as La Verne.

    There was a “B” horror movie made in the ’70s, I believe, in our old family home on the S/W corner of 6th and “D” street. I remember that well, as all the neighbors were very upset, in that explosions were set off in the middle of the night and many nearby windows in homes were blown out! Would you have any way of finding out how I could view that movie, David? If so, please let me know.

    Thank you,
    Nancy

    [Thanks for the extra details, Nancy. As for how you could view the '70s movie, well, first we'll need a title. -- DA]

  • Galen Beery

    Dave:

    Rather enjoyed seeing the extract from The Magic Christmas Tree! Most of the film was taken in downtown La Verne.

    The first sequence was shot on the west side of D Street just about Bonita — which was then Fourth Street. The truck went south on D across Fourth. The T-Bird gas station at the southwest corner was once Gene Gays Richfield Service, where the donut shop is now. The Mobil gas station was at the southeast corner.

    The lad runs west on 3rd street at this point past our current sushi restaurant. The police car is cruising in the parking lot of the Alpha Beta store, now the Wilson Library of the University of La Verne. The fire engine is our old Seagrave and emerges from the Fire Station/City Hall, which was unfortunately razed for the parking lot of the current Public Safety Station.

    The pie-throwing episode begins on the sidewalk in front of what was Kewishes Bakery, and the woman runs south in front of Pats Restaurant, since replaced by a new building. The chase scene begins in the north-south alley west of D, but was actually taken on the east-west alley east of D.

    During the fire truck chase, the truck twice turns from 3rd north on E street, and passes the old Brethren Church, which later became the Fashion Inn.

    I heard of this film but had never seen it. Where could I get a copy for the Historical Society? Other pictures filmed in La Verne include The Graduate (taken at the Methodist church on D) and horror epics as Crystal Force (filmed at several homes on Third and E) and Uncle Sam (filmed on Third Street and at Heritage Park). The last two are a shade better than “The Magic Christmas Tree.”

    Galen Beery,
    La Verne Historical Society

    [Galen, welcome to the blog, and my thanks for your play-by-play of "Magic Christmas Tree" locations. As for getting a copy of the movie, I believe it made VHS, in which case, eBay would be a good bet. I wonder if "Crystal Force" is the horror movie the other reader referenced above? -- DA]

  • Jan

    I grew up in La Verne in the ’60s and I think this movie was made before 1964. There was a Tastee Freeze in the NW corner of the Alpha Beta parking lot and I didn’t see it in the clip. Eric was correct in the route the boy took. The fire truck went around the same block twice by the old church. I don’t remember what the name of that church was before it became “The House of Praise.” Great memories!

  • Bill Lemon

    David,

    I couldn’t get enough of this clip! For 13 years (1957 – 1970) I lived one-half block north of Bonita on the east side of “E” Street, and my mom lived there until 1991. My parents lived in La Verne when I was born in 1946, but we moved away in 1949. I have very little memory of the town until our family returned in 1957. I have now lived in La Verne since 1976. I graduated from Roynon elementary school in 1960 and Bonita High in 1964, so this area was very familiar to me.

    Back to the movie. The house on the northwest corner of “D” and Fifth streets was once a branch of Todd’s Funeral Homes (before my memory). The bank was probably the United States National Bank or the First National Bank of La Verne as it was called when the building was built in 1955.

    The T Bird gas station had been a Richfield station operated by Gene Gay. A donut shop is there now. Further down is the Stop-and-Shop market. After Mellin’s there is a restaurant, hardware store and the Fashion Inn, a yardage store. The post office had been in that block, but I believe the new one was built at the southwest corner of Third and “E” Streets in 1964.

    A note on the police car: If my memory serves me correctly, the cars at that time were GREEN and white.

    The pie-throwing begins in front of the La Verne Bakery, the present location of Warehouse Pizza. North of that was a barber shop. Continuing to the corner was the Mobil station, operated by Homer Dacus.

    Across Bonita on the northeast corner of “D” was a Chevron station, and beyond it, visible under the Mobil sign is a large building, the Lawellan Garage, operated by Bill Wells. IndyMac Federal Bank now occupies the corner where those businesses were located.

    The pie chef is ready to toss another pie as they are running in the alley behind what appears to be La Verne Auto Parts, where I worked on two occasions in the 1970s.

    When the fire truck turns north on “E” from Third it passes the First Brethren Church. That building later became the second home of the Fashion Inn and is now a church again.

    Thanks for the clip and the opportunity to comment.

    Bill Lemon
    Vice President, Historical Society of La Verne

    P.S. I am a second cousin of Tom Waits (our grandmothers were sisters) and was also born in Park Avenue Hospital.

    [But not in a taxicab, I trust! Bill, between you, Galen and Eric, we could do a commentary track on the DVD version of this movie. Glad you got such a kick out of the clip. -- DA]

  • Jan D

    Bill is right on with his memory. I completely agree and enjoyed the clip and look down memory lane. Things have definitely changed but it is still a great city!!

  • ray

    I noticed the east side of D St between 3rd & Bonita, Warehouse Pizza is there now & Homer Dacus Mobil gas station is shown on S/E corner of D/Bonita…..I’ll have to view the clip a few times to gather more landmarks…. TG & Y was next to Alpha Beta.

  • Richard D

    Great old scenery from LV.

    I did not know of this movie until today. I got a kick out of seeing some of the old businesses in town.

    From the T-Bird (which became Richfield) and Mr. Weeks jewelry store, Herman Belchers Shoe Repair, Jack and Jackie Hixon’s Stop N Shop Market. Mellins 5&10 became Scrivens 5 & 10 (and then TG&Y). Howard Scriven was my History teacher in the early ’60s at Bonita.

    Pat’s Cafe, Kewish Bakery, Haines barber shop and of course Uncle Homer’s Mobil station. This is where the problems of the world were solved every day. (And some great checker games took place, unless Futrell Pratt was playing, and you might as well stay home.) The original bank on the N/W corner of 3rd & D is now a sushi restaurant.

    If you look closely at the old Seagraves engine as it leaves the station on 3rd Street, the second man on the camera side looks like Louie Smith who ran the service station on the N/E corner of 4th and D, where Indy Bank is now. His brother Larry was a police officer here until his retirement several years ago.

    And of course Hamilton’s and Van Dusen’s on the east side of D. From Hamilton’s east I can’t make out the signs but Lee Baird had the TV repair just before the alley on the north side of 3rd. And if you really pay attention at about 9:10 in the movie that old Seagraves became a right hand drive. Amazing…..

    The first five minutes of the film were less than stupendous but it was very interesting.

    rd

    [I'd like to be at that Mobil station playing checkers right now, or at least watching Futrell Pratt. Thanks for the help, Richard. We're really getting this thing pieced together. -- DA]

  • Eric

    David:

    I was able to obtain a copy of the VHS of the movie…

    Unfortunately that clip above is all there is to see of La Verne in 1964.

    The fire engine is La Verne’s Engine No. 1, which still drives in La Verne’s annual 4th of July Parade every year, typically carrying a Grand Marshal or dignitary. I understand that it was previously believed that Engine No. 1 never had a windshield (as seen in the movie) or that hose rack in the back.

    [If that's all the La Verne we see, then I suppose we'll just have to enjoy "Magic Christmas Tree" for what it is. Whatever it is. -- DA]

  • Richard D

    Just a note about Engine #1. (1927 Seagraves)

    It is used in the parade on the Fourth and is also used every Christmas to deliver candy and peanuts to all the residents of La Verne. It was completely overhauled and refurbished several years ago under the watchful eye of Charley Farrell, the water and sewer maintenance supervisor at the time. (When Charley retired I filled that position with the city.)

    He still drives the engine occassionaly for parades and special functions. ‘Bear’ Eastwood sometimes shares that duty. The engine is housed at the city’s maintenance yard where it is regularly ‘fed and watered.’

    At about 8:41 in the movie where the engine crosses the street and enters another alley, looks like the garage of the old rock house on the n/e corner of 3rd and F streets. I believe “Mountain Man” Chuck Huck’s mother owned that house.
    rd

  • ray

    Great info, Richard D…. My grandfather (Julian Montes) was water foreman for City of La Verne before Charley Farrell took over. Grandpa Montes would have all the answers to those clips if he was still with us! I am trying to get my family members to view the film to assist us in some way. Wasn’t Charlie a member of the La Verne Volunteer Fire Department? We also had a nickname for La Verne…. “MAYBERRY” before the growth.

  • Bob House

    Thanks to Richard D. for mentioning the Christmas use of the old firetruck. As a 3-4 year old, my family lived in La Verne on 4th or 5th Street. I don’t remember our exact address, but I do remember Santa rolling by on the firetruck tossing candy at Christmas. This would have been 1949 or 50.

    My other fond memory of La Verne is the pneumatic tube system for paying at Van Dusen’s department store — hand your money to the clerk, she put it in a “can” and sent it through the tube up to the cashier (on the mezzanine), who sent back a receipt. Sounds old fashioned now, but seemed space age in the day.

  • Pat J.

    That MAGIC CHRISTMAS TREE stuff is fascinating! We ought to do an I.E. Film Festival, with this, CURSE OF BIGFOOT and the monster/naked girl flick shot on Mt. Baldy.

    Nancy the reader may be thinking of LEMORA, LADY DRACULA, a sexy, cool horror flick with a hot vampiress and a zombie army (seems like half of ’70s Upland townsfolk worked on it) which was shot in Upland and La Verne. CRYSTAL FORCE was done in the ’80s, I think, so it probably wasn’t that.

    The Historical guy is right — UNCLE SAM (about a 4th o’ July zombie dressed like you-know-who) is fun. Let’s not forget WAYNE’S WORLD 2. Actually, saw it, so let’s.

  • Richard D

    I remember Julian driving the street sweeper for many years. He was gone when I came to work for the city in ’72. Charlie was indeed a volunteer fireman. In those days it was an all volunteer department. (If you can get “Izzy” to look at the film he can probably tell you a lot about it.)

    I also remember the pneumatic system at Van Dusen’s, and the guy who worked at the Kewish Bakery, “Pauley.” He was a little ‘slow’ but he could bake anything you wanted. And I was in love with Becky Kewish who moved out here from somewhere back east (maybe Ohio?). I think we were in the 6th or 7th grade.

    My older brother worked for Red Wells at the Llewylyn garage on the n/e corner of 4th and ‘D’ in ’57 or ’58. It was shortly after this film was made that the Tastee Freeze was built directly across the street from where the Fire Station was then. There have been a lot of changes……….
    rd

  • Richard D

    To Jan,

    The “House of Praise” was not shown in the picture. It’s another block east on the south side of third street. (s/w corner of 3rd and F.) The church shown was at one time the Brethern Church and later Erma Sink, who owned the Fashion Inn, a yardage shop, was in that building. At this time it is another church.
    Richard D