Giant Christmas tree brings joy to Hemet residents
■ Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
Realtor and humanitarian Matt McPherson brought a holiday tradition back to downtown Hemet on the Friday following Thanksgiving.
He and attorney Kevin Speir towed a flatbed trailer down to the Del Mar Fairgrounds to collect a 16-foot noble fir from The Pinery in San Diego where one goes to shop for tall Christmas trees. They are the source for annual tree requests from throughout Southern California and are known for trees the size that might be displayed at the Hearst Castle near Big Sur.
Arriving back in Hemet, it took a number of muscular men from Sweet Baby Jane’s, across the street from Matt’s business location at the corner of Harvard Street and Florida Avenue, to help erect the 800-pound beauty.
The installation created quite a buzz as motorists on cell phones phoned home to say,
“Guess what I just saw?” The news spread rapidly, and soon there was quite a crowd who came to watch and wonder what exactly was going on. The location is ideal since more than 40,000 commuters pass by that corner every day.
Early Saturday morning, vendors and onlookers settled in on the lawn among the palm trees like elves at Santa’s workshop waiting to get started. While the final string of lights was being placed around the trees, kids and adults alike began lining up to see Santa and one of his elves.
Adam McShane’s Atomic Video Game Truck slid into position at the curb as children from 4 to 94 lined up to play some of the thousands of interactive video games after Adam opened up the side to expose large video screens. Folks parked their cars to get into the act as well as being drawn by the delicious aroma of Mariscos Poblano street tacos, and the mouth-watering southern style food of Soul on Wheels.
Not to be denied a role in the festivities, a wide variety of custom classic cars arrived in the parking lot in back of the Valley Chronicle building; roadsters, muscle cars, military vehicles, soon taking command of the entire area. The car show was judged by Valley Chronicle Photographer Cindy Boeing. She not only judged the car show but distributed gift certificates from Sweet Baby Jane’s to the winners. The restaurant has always been a staunch supporter of the recent downtown festivals that Matt has sponsored. Adding to an atmosphere of community, Hemet Police Department’s Captain Glenn Brock brought along the department’s 1954 black and white patrol car to the car show and encouraged members of the community to pose with the vehicle.
Further spicing up the event, Hemet’s Mayor Mike Perciful and City Councilwoman Bonnie Wright led a touch of officialdom to the affair.
Television-reporter-about-town Eddie George and Laurie Cain provided an abundance of media coverage, posting a 20-minute video of the event on their Hemet News Facebook page.
Once things got started, the line for free pictures with Santa strung out along Harvard street. Many pet enthusiasts showed up with their furry family members decked out in holiday attire. The youngsters were kept warm by hot chocolate from the nearby Destination Coffee Bar and Bistro as they waited for Santa (played by musician Rocky Zharp) to arrive. It was the third successive year that Zharp, as Hemet’s official Santa, and accompanied by his jovial Elf, Justin Fox, a well known stand-up comedian and film actor, gave kids a little bit of fun at Christmas. They were a big hit with everyone.
As the day ebbed, and darkness started to take over, families and loving couples gathered around the tree to talk as well as have pictures taken of them. Ruben and Janet, owners of Sweet Baby Jane’s, enjoyed a romantic kiss before embracing to be photographed in front of the tree.
It seemed that beyond the hip-hop and the rap music of today, an ancient tradition returned during that night. You could almost see and hear the old lamplighter of long, long ago weaving his magical spell.
The McPherson family is well known in the valley, having owned various businesses in downtown Hemet for over 100 years. Some of you might remember McPherson’s Furniture Store and Marguerite McPherson’s Palace Theater just north of Florida Avenue on the west side of Harvard Street. Matt’s mother, Judi McPherson, joined in all the preparations making it a McPherson Family Production.
Matt insisted on not being the big hero, even though he was. “This is not the first annual Christmas tree lighting in downtown Hemet,” he said. “We are just carrying the torch for those who started this heart-warming tradition including Krikor and Patricia Yepremian, Rick and Carolyn Truskowski, and David and Marilyn Angeloff, to name a few.”
Sponsors of the event included: Coleman and Associates Real Estate and Development, Jungle Juice, Destination Coffee Bar and Bistro, Sweet Baby Jane’s, Balloons and Things, Hemet Valley Tool, Datillo’s Restaurant, Shooter’s, Maximum Overdrive, The Derby Bar and Grill and Wheelhouse, PIP Printing, Easy-Ad, and The Valley Chronicle, along with dozens of other downtown business owners. Matt expressly wants to thank everyone for coming out and supporting the Christmas tree lighting event to celebrate the onset of the Christmas holidays that begins the period of Christmas shopping this year.
The tree will be up through the New Year for those who want to enjoy a cool California Christmas backdrop with waving palm trees sharing the upper atmosphere with an American flag for a photo op. Stop by and take pictures and, while you are at it, order your custom Christmas Cards just inside at PIP Printing.
The tree will be lighted daily at 5 p.m. If it’s white lights can be seen by airplanes flying over, maybe they will even guide Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve. You just never know. Anyone who would like to help light the tree can come down to Coleman and Associates at 135 E. Florida Avenue, Suite B in Hemet and ask for Matt McPherson and he’ll be more than happy to accommodate you. There’s more to Hemet than the name.
-Matt McPherson also contributed to this article.