Local tree farm has long Claremont roots

Spreading holiday cheer is business for the Brock family, a longtime Claremont clan. For the last 52 years, Brock’s Christmas Tree Farm, a Mountain Avenue destination, has continued to provide southern California families the firs and fresh scents that bring merriment to the yuletide season.

More than 300 pines stand elegantly in the north Claremont lot under the watchful eye of David Brock, who took over caretaking duties after his father’s passing in 2002. The late Rene Brock was so inspired by the spirit of Christmas, he chose to keep the holiday magic alive 365 days a year. Today, David ensures that his father’s beloved Christmas tree farm remains a holiday tradition for families throughout the Inland Valley.

“All of us look at a Christmas card or a picture of a holiday scene with a cabin in the woods and snow and smoke coming out of the chimney and wish we could put ourselves in that picture. I think the Christmas tree farm allows people to do that,” Mr. Brock said. “It may not be a snowy cabin in the woods, but it’s as close as we can get in southern California.”

After his parents’ divorce and an upbringing in boarding schools, Rene Brock made it his mission to make the holidays about bringing his family together. This usually meant rigging up his own family Christmas tree. But after reading a few articles in Sunset Magazine, he took this task to another level. With the purchase of a vacant lot on Mountain Avenue above Base Line in 1961, Mr. Brock began making plans to open up a Christmas tree farm where families could come and cut down their own tree to take home to decorate.

When the elder Mr. Brock first purchased the land, North Mountain Avenue was nothing but a dirt road, and the Thompson Creek trail that ran next to the Brock’s property was not just the name of a paved trailhead but an actual creek. Turning the lot from wasteland to winter wonderland was an adventure for the boys, who often accompanied their father to ride the tractor and catch frogs at the creek in between raking rocks and clearing land, for which they were paid 25 cents an hour.

The boys had their work cut out, as the terrain was rugged and covered in cactus. On more than one occasion, David returned home with cactus needles in his palms, but other perks of the job kept him coming back “to the land,” as the family called it.

“We would shoot arrows and slingshots, and I remember my dad riding the tractor with a cultivator all around and we would take turns on the back of it,” he recalled.

Getting into the Christmas tree business was not necessarily lucrative work, but the Brocks weren’t motivated by money.

Rene, a full-time accountant in addition to tree farm-entrepreneur, loved the lay of the land and took pride in his seedlings, watering each by hand. David recalls his father carrying water to the farm from his home in a basin he fashioned from an airplane fuel tank. In years since, his son has become equally crafty, coming up with creative solutions to manage the southern California drought. This usually means diligent watering year-round, and handling the occasional spider mite, which David discovered can be combated with a special mix of baby oil and dish soap.

The Christmas tree farm is much more than a family trade. Over the years, the tree-lined lot has become a home-away-from-home for many of the Brock children. A trailer located at the Christmas tree lot is the perfect overnight getaway, and even provided a temporary home for David when he moved home in his 20s to attend graduate school.  

“No matter what has happened in my life—school or moving away, family or relationship issues—this property has always been here. It’s always been a place where I can recharge and get a grip on what is going on and find balance again,” he said. “And of course after my dad died, I would come up here and think, ‘What would dad do?’”

Despite also working a full-time job, David happily stepped into his father’s shoes to carry on the proud Brock family tradition. Just a year after his father’s death, however, the businesses’ future was all called into question. The Grand Prix Fire engulfed the foothills in 2003, and along with it the Christmas tree farm. David remembers walking up to survey the damage at the farm, bypassing the police barricades that were blocking off cars. The lot’s metal trailer was burnt to a puddle, the Eucalyptus trees surrounding the property were all but destroyed and only a few dozen pines remained as a reminder of what the fire had taken.

“I was speechless. I had never seen the farm look like that. It would have been the most heartbreaking thing for my dad to see,” David said. “But again, I had to ask myself, ‘What would dad do?’ The answer was simple: He would rebuild.”

And so they did. Ten years later, the only signs of the devastating fire are a few black spots on the ground and charring on the trunk of an otherwise unharmed giant Italian stone pine, a fitting symbol of the farm’s longevity.

With a green thumb inherited from his father, Mr. Brock has relished refilling his father’s land with Monterey pines and Leyland cypresses for the families that frequent the farm. Though one might assume that the owner of a Christmas tree farm might have the pick of the litter when it comes to Christmas trees, Mr. Brock argues it’s actually quite the opposite.

“I’m usually so tired by the time I get home from the farm, the last thing I want to do is hassle with putting up my own tree,” he laughed.

While his busy schedule doesn’t always allow him the time to deck his own halls, like his father, Mr. Brock doesn’t mind the busy work at the farm. Though working a full-time job at the University of La Verne, Mr. Brock has no qualms leaving behind his classroom duties for the great outdoors.

“There’s nothing quite like digging in the soil and planting things, whether fruits and vegetables or Christmas trees,” he said. “There are few things more rewarding.”

Brock’s Christmas Tree Farm is open Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and can be found on the left side of Mountain Avenue, north of Base Line at the base of the Thompson Creek Trail. Choose and cut a cypress tree for $34.95 or a classic pine for $49.95.

—Beth Hartnett



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