How A 60-Foot Spruce In A Regent Square Front Yard Became The City’s Official Holiday Tree

Nov 17, 2017

With a chill in the air and the holidays fast approaching, many people make plans to visit downtown Pittsburgh for Light up Night and other holiday festivities.

One of the highlights of the season is the traditional lighting of the official city Christmas tree outside the City County Building on Grant Street, downtown. But selecting the perfect tree is a long process that begins months earlier, during the warm days of summer.

The tree that stands in the portico this year is a 58-foot-tall blue spruce that began its life more than 40 years ago on a plot of land on South Braddock Avenue in Regent Square. Department of Public Works Forrester Lisa Ceoffe spotted it last year on her way to inspect another tree and reached out to the owner.

“I gave him the tradition. That the city’s done it for decades and that it was a pretty awesome thing to participate in, but he wasn’t ready to do it at that time,” Ceoffe  said.

But she didn’t give up and approached owner John Zitelli again this year with better luck.

“This time he said yes, and we were delighted and he was pretty happy too," she said. 

“I wasn’t ready four or five years ago to donate it," Zitelli said,  "but I’m hitting 70 years old and what could I say, 'just take it!'” 

With permission granted, the public works forestry crew got to work a few Saturdays ago. They secured it with a crane, cut the trunk, being careful not to damage it, and lowered it onto a flatbed truck. According to Ceoffe, it’s a job they actually enjoy. 

“Typically we are doing routine pruning maintenance, addressing emergency or storm response so this assignment is extra special,” she said.

Once downtown, there’s more work to do to get the tree ready for the holidays. After it’s secured to the city hall portico, extra branches are taken from a second tree and attached to the Christmas tree with rebar. It’s like a hair plug treatment to fill in the trees bald spots.

"The tree looks nicer having that extra filler in there, for sure,” said Ceoffe.

Not until that’s finished can the lights and ornaments be hung on the tree. Then, it will it be ready for its official debut on Light up Night.   

“If you’re gonna go out, this is the way to go out--to be the star of the show," Ceoffe said. "To be growing your whole life for this grand finale. It brings so much happiness to the people who participate for the holiday season and once it gets decorated, it’ll be glorious.”

The city’s official Christmas tree will be on display through Jan. 6.