A single, massive Monterey Cypress stands in front of the McLaren Lodge, where it has stood for over 100 years. It is lovingly called “Uncle John’s Tree” in honor of the park’s most influential superintendent, John McLaren.
McLaren was an enthusiastic tree planter, responsible for the complete transformation of the landscape of Golden Gate Park from desolate dunes to an urban greenscape.
The Monterey Cypress is native to the California Central Coast and can be seen planted extensively around Golden Gate Park, including another beautiful individual specimen in the Strybing Arboretum. This particular tree dates to approximately 1880, during the reign of McLaren’s predecessor, William Hammond Hall, who planted some 200,000 trees during his tenure.
The elegant Romanesque (with Arts and Crafts influences) building across the lawn from the tree, now housing Recreation and Park Department offices, was built in 1896 as McLaren’s home. His portrait looks over the boardroom, visible through the windows at the north of the building.
In 1929, as part of the the Outdoor Christmas Tree Association of California, McLaren had the trees lit for the holidays along Fell St, adjacent to Golden Gate Park’s Panhandle and close to McLaren Lodge, as a gift to the city’s residents then enduring the scarcities of the Great Depression.
On his death bed, McLaren’s requested that the tree be lit with Christmas lights. His wish was granted and it is now the official Christmas tree of San Francisco.