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Greetings From Your Old Friend The Christmas Tree man. At Oak and Baker Sts
Real photo postcard
Private collection of Tom Reitz
(Tom Reitz, 4 October 2020) Other than the message written on the front of this postally unused real photo postcard, there wasn't any other information to help identify "The Christmas Tree man." Based on the stamp box, the card dates to sometime between 1939 to 1950 but the name on the door of the truck's cab isn't clear and the streets named in the message seemed too broad to bother searching.
Although it has nothing to do with Christmas, I turned to museum colleagues who were able to identify the truck as a 1930-31 Diamond T. The Diamond T Motor Car Company, based in Chicago, was founded in 1905 making touring cars; later they turned to manufacturing trucks.
One of those colleagues also passed along a tidbit of information ... that Oak and Baker Streets cross in San Francisco. That led me to search that city's newspapers and lo' and behold ... I found the Christmas Tree Man, aka John Patten, in the San Francisco Examiner, advertising his wholesale and retail business selling Christmas trees each December. According to Patten's ads, he began cutting and selling Christmas trees in 1928; he was still selling Christmas trees at least until 1974. The trees came from the Pacific Northwest -- in 1968 the trees came from the Lake Tahoe area but that year he also had a train car load of trees from Washington State that he was selling wholesale. A newspaper article in 2003, noted that "Patten and his crews cut up to 40,000 trees a year."
Patten's annual classified ads help to fill in some additional information about the man and his business. He began selling Christmas trees at the corner of Baker and Oak Streets in 1946, after several years selling trees at the San Francisco Farmers' Market. That year he advertised himself as "the Man with the Whiskers." In 1947, he began selling trees on December 2 and he called out other sellers of Christmas trees who said there was a shortage that year. In 1948 he proclaimed that he has "arrived out of the tall timbers with my Xmas Trees which I cut myself." One year later he stated that he had several people from America's First Nations, including Chief Yellow-Jacket, at his Christmas tree lot and that they would tell customers about the injustices done to their community by the US federal government. Patten encouraged people to donate warm clothing for the First Nations. He also noted that "if you know of any widow with children send them to my lot" - presumably to receive a gift of a Christmas tree. In 1964, he had relocated and expanded to two locations in the city. In 1965, Patten advertised that he was selling silver tip fir, white fir and Douglas fir - and that he had trees up to 30 feet tall.
Patten died in the mid 1980s at age 96 after a lifetime of bringing smiles to and creating holiday memories for families throughout northern California.