It’s simply known as the “The Library Tree,” a gigantic Moreton Bay Fig on the west side of the South Pasadena Library, yet its roots go deep – way, way deep – in terms of its significance to the local community.
Make that 80 years deep, for at least one person in particular who knows its origin, and the man responsible for planting it.
Bill Kloezman was among a group of speakers at a ceremony last Thursday afternoon celebrating the tree for being added to the city’s Historic Landmark Register last December by the South Pasadena City Council. Prior to the start of the program, which included remarks made by the town’s mayor, Dr. Marina Khubesrian and a handful of other dignitaries, Kloezman was asked if he thought the towering fig would receive this kind of attention when he discovered his father, Wellem Kloezeman, had planted it about 80 years ago.
Bill Kloezeman quietly said, “no, not really, it was just a tree.”
No longer is it just a tree. Today, it’s perhaps the most beloved in South Pasadena, gaining enormous status over the years, especially now as an official landmark.
Willem Kloezeman, a former local city worker, responsible for putting it into the ground in 1930, had no idea it would someday bring so much joy to the community. Kloezeman has long passed away but not before leaving one of the City of South Pasadena’s most honored attractions, a tree cherished by the thousands who have walked and driven past it, and even played on it, evidenced by the number of kids romping around its sprawling roots on a daily basis.
Working in South Pasadena all his life, the elder Kloezeman worked for the tree department from 1925 to 1940 before going to the local fire department until 1950, and finally to the water department to1972, ending a 47-year career, perhaps the longest in city history.
According to Bill Kloezeman, his dad, using a pick and shovel, planted half the camphor, jacaranda and palm trees during his time working for the city. He recalls driving along El Centro Street with his father as a teen and saying, “We’ll, there’s a pretty ugly looking tree,” talking about the Moreton Bay Fig. The older Kloezeman quickly responded: “It should be, I planted it,” recalls his son, now proudly saying before Thursday’s ceremony, “It’s pretty interesting, knowing your father planted it.”
South Pasadena Library Director Steve Fjeldsted, talking to the gathering in attendance at the celebration, squashed rumors that the Moreton Bay Fig was either the largest or oldest in the city, but pointed out one bit of local lore he claims is true. “If you stand near this tree it will increase your imagination and benefit your life in many magical, fantastic ways,” he said. “People all around South Pasadena know that, and that’s why all ages gather here to read, to meditate, to study and have fun.”
In her remarks, South Pasadena Mayor Dr. Marina Khubesrian called it “an amazing gorgeous tree,” referring to the Moreton Bay Fig, now known as Landmark No. 55 in the city’s historical archives. Other trees in the local registry include the Ashbourne-Chelten Hybrid Oak Tree, which died in 1988, the Cathedral Oak, now marked with a monument, and is also gone along the Arroyo, and a 200-year-old Clokey Oak currently in the backyard of a private residence on Laurel Street.
Mark Gallatin, chair of the Cultural Heritage Commission, said he couldn’t think of a more fitting landmark that is representative of “all the great things about our town” than the magnificent tree behind him as he spoke. “With its massive, extensive root system, representing the roots that each and everyone of us have put down here in South Pasadena, with it’s sturdy and strong trunk, it represents the stability and certainty that comes from a community that values and protects its historical and cultural heritage. And, with its expansive canopy reaching skyward, symbolizing the aspirations we all have for our town and as individuals, all mighty tree, I salute you. I hope you continue to stand and inspire South Pasadenans for generations to come.”
The City of South Pasadena remains committed to preserving its neighborhoods, significant landmarks and important cultural heritage.
“This particular tree is among the memories of our kids and our families as we walk through the park, especially watching the little ones climbing through the roots,” explained Steven Lawrence, president of the city’s Preservation Foundation, who raised his family in a home across the street from the library with a good view of the tree. “It speaks a lot for the city and the community from a preservation standpoint that we can earmark this tree and set it aside and make sure it’s protected and recognized appropriately and truly becomes a memory of the fabric of our lives.”
David Uwins, president of the Library Board of Trustees, thanked the City Council and responsible commissions and organizations, for making the tree a historic landmark, noting, like others, it has become a place for kids to frolic and families to picnic, especially on Thursday’s during the city’s farmers’ market.
“When someone makes an appointment by saying, ‘Please meet me at the Library Tree,’ it’s not necessary to say which tree,” he explained. “We all know it.”
Spanning multiple generations, many people have wedding, baby and even first date pictures taken at the site.
It now has a poem written about it by Joyce Kilmer as described by the city’s Poet Laureate Ron Koertge reading “Trees:”
“I think that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day, And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain; Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.”
Singer Goh Kurosawa concluded the tree ceremony with an acoustic guitar performance while famed artist Pete Morris showcased his talents, with a painting of the tree that means so much to so many.