South Pasadena’s monumental Moreton Bay Fig Tree on the west side of Library Park by Diamond Street catches the attention of visitors from near and far every day. On Thursday evenings when the Farmers Market is bustling only a block away, dozens of children picnicking and romping with their family members can usually be seen situated all around the tree. It’s also a common sight throughout the year to see Library Park guests reading a book, meditating, or just relaxing on the tree’s roots –or sitting nearby on a park bench and admiring its structure and majesty.
The brand new local phone directory, produced by Community Directory Company, features the Library Tree on its eye-catching cover, utilizing a beautiful photograph taken by George Vieth of the South Pasadena Rotary Club. I thank Lorie Herbert and Barbara Regnier for helping the Library by using the photo on the cover, and hope that it encourages people to visit the Library and the Library Park even more often. And beginning on October 31, 2017, the Library open hours schedule will change. The Library will be open on Thursday nights until 9 p.m. and closing on Monday nights at 6 p.m. The Library is looking forward to providing services on Thursday nights to Farmers Market visitors and others.
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 had been a mystery at the Library for a long time until 2011. It’s no wonder that so many regularly asked about the origin of the Library Park’s massive 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 might possibly be true, but they would certainly be difficult to prove.
But no matter what, it should have been pretty easy to find out the exact origin of the beloved tree, especially since the Library has a voluminous Local History collection and it contains thousands of photos, articles, books, pamphlets, and much more. So it would seem logical, and almost a given, 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’s not the case. Despite all the attention the Library Tree gets, a thorough search in 2011 revealed that the Library had no record whatsoever of when the tree was planted –or even when it was purchased or by whom.
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 in 2010, estimated that the “Library Tree” was 100 years old. I submitted an article about the history of South Pasadena Library to “The Quarterly” magazine shortly after that time. The most I could include about the origin of the Moreton Bay Fig Tree was that it was unknown. The article appeared in the Winter 2011 issue containing a text box briefly explaining the mystery.
After reading the piece, lifetime South Pasadena resident Bill Kloezeman stepped forward to provide details. Bill’s father, Willem Garret Andries Kloezeman, who was also known as Bill, planted the tree in 1930 while the entire South Pasadena’s Carnegie Library was being moved to the center of Library Park from its previous location even closer to Diamond Street. Many years ago while driving around town, the elder Bill Kloezeman would tell his son about all the work he’d done for the City around town, including his planting of the Moreton Bay Fig. Another well-known project the elder Kloezeman liked to point out was the annual placement of a lighted star each holiday season on the top of the water storage tower atop Bilicke Hill in the Altos de Monterey.
At the time of its planting in 1930, the Moreton Bay Fig was a young potted tree and only about 6 inches in diameter. Now it’s close to 100 feet tall with its massive trunk and long, elephant trunk-like roots jutting out in every direction from all around its base. When the senior Kloezeman planted it, he was working for the City’s Street Department four years after he started in 1926. Bill (Sr.) went on to work for the City of South Pasadena 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. Then 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. But for some reason I can’t seem to fully understand, I have a feeling the Library Tree likes being the center of attention on the cover of the new phone book.