By Steve Fjeldsted, Library Director
South Pasadena is nicknamed “The City of Trees” and is an official “Tree City USA,” yet the origin of what is perhaps its most famous tree has been a mystery at the Library for quite some time. It’s no wonder that many have asked about the origin of the Library Park’s massive Moreton Bay Fig tree because local lore has it that it’s the largest tree in the city. One of the town’s other legends has it that the very same tree has magical powers that boost the imaginations of those who come into contact with it. Both beliefs could possibly be true, but they would certainly be difficult to prove.
It would seem that it should be pretty easy to find out the exact origin of the beloved tree, especially since the Library has a voluminous Local History collection with thousands upon thousands of photos, articles, books, pamphlets, and much more. It would seem logical that the Library would have scads of information on the gigantic, legendary tree that stands only a few feet from its west wall. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. Despite all the attention the majestic tree gets, from daily visitors of all ages to the Library Park, a search some months back revealed that the Library has no record when the tree was planted -or even when it was purchased.
Matt Ritter, author of “A Californian’s Guide to the Trees Among Us,” who visited the tree before speaking at a South Pasadena Library Author Night recently, estimated that the Moreton Bay Fig tree might be 100 years old. The Library Director submitted an article to “The Quarterly” shortly afterwards about the history of South Pasadena Library in which the unknown origin of the Moreton Bay Fig Tree was mentioned and the article appeared in the Winter 2011 issue.
After reading the piece, lifetime South Pasadena resident Bill Kloezeman stepped forward to clear up the mystery. Bill’s father, Willem Garret Andries Kloezeman, who was also known as Bill, planted the tree in 1930 while South Pasadena’s Carnegie Library was being moved to the center of Library Park from its previous location nearer to Diamond Street. Many years ago while driving around town, the elder Bill Kloezeman used to tell his son about all the work he’d done around town, including his planting of the Moreton Bay Fig. Another well-known project of Kloezeman was the annual placement of a lighted star on the top of the water storage tower atop Bilicke Hill in the Altos de Monterey.
At the time of the planting, the Moreton Bay Fig was a young potted tree and about 6 inches in diameter. When the senior Kloezeman planted it, he was working for the City’s Street Department. In all, Bill (Sr.) worked for the City of South Pasadena from 1926 until he retired in 1972, a remarkable stretch of more than 45 years. While working for the Street Department in the 20’s and 30’s, Kloezeman planted many other large trees in town that are still around. Later he also worked for the Fire Department in the 40’s and the Water Department in the 50’s, 60’s, and early 70’s, until he retired as a Water Service Foreman on January 15, 1972. Willem “Bill” Kloezeman passed away on September 7, 1981.
Enormous thanks are due to the Kloezeman Family for sharing the story about the stately Library tree’s beginnings. As author Matt Ritter stated, “It’s a magnificent specimen.” And that’s certainly the case no matter if the tree has supernatural powers or not.