The Historic Highlands district is prototypical of the Pasadena-Altadena aesthetic: turn-of-the-century Craftsman homes next to 1920s Spanish bungalows across from grand colonial-revival mansions, set amid a forest of mature oaks, eucalyptus and jacaranda trees.
The tidy north Pasadena neighborhood resounded Thursday with the whine of chain saws biting into many of those trees, as residents dug out after a night of howling winds turned palm fronds into missiles and launched limbs into backyards. Drifts of eucalyptus leaves banked up against curbs; as cars crushed them, the piles gave off a fragrant scent.
By 7 a.m., a group of residents on Rio Grande Street were swarming like termites over an uprooted jacaranda, reducing it to fireplace-size logs in several hours. The tree had recently been tagged by the city for removal, so Joy Gibson and his wife, Barbara, were ready for the loss. Still, they were surprised that nature had done the city's work, leaving the already stressed tree sprawled across the street, blocking the road.
PHOTOS: Santa Ana wind damage
"I don't have any emotional attachment to trees," said Barbara Gibson, shrugging. "I have emotional attachments to people. Unless it's my orange tree..."
She watched as Joy, a 77-year-old lawyer, vigorously yanked a chain saw to life and sliced into the tree with gusto. Raising his voice to be heard above the din of multiple saws, he shouted at a news photographer: "Think this will knock the Euro off the front page?"
Two streets away on Catalina Avenue, a felled oak tree was being used as a makeshift jungle gym by children who said they were thrilled to be excused from school for the day.
Sheryl Kaplan watched, thrilled she was still around. Kaplan, who is deaf, went to bed Wednesday night knowing that high winds were predicted. She was unaware that neighbors had pounded on her door in the middle of the night, after a tree crashed across Kaplan's car and onto the roof of her small house.
"They can knock until they are blue in the face and I won't hear them," Kaplan said. "But when I came out this morning, they were pretty happy to see me."
Kaplan seemed less concerned that her car was pinned under a tree than about the prospect of losing the first day off she's had in two and a half weeks.
"There go my plans," she said. "I guess I'll walk."
Back on Rio Grande, the morning wore on. Various people appeared with wheelbarrows to tote away pieces of the dwindling jacaranda. Neighbors had already spent much of the morning helping each other remove debris from lawns and driveways. It's that kind of neighborhood. Designated a landmark district in 2008, Historic Highlands holds its own Fourth of July parade, and residents block off the streets for barbecues. Everyone knows everyone else and lends a hand.
But this was something else.
"Oh, you think we are just helping out the city by clearing the street?" Barbara Gibson laughed. "We're in it for the firewood."
Theirs was the kind of sangfroid that comes with living in the foothills of the San Gabriels since 1966 and absorbing all that the mountain range dishes out: mudslides, brush fires and the occasional mighty wind that sluices south down the broad avenues, picking up debris and speed.
"Oh, it's not the worst we've seen," said Barbara Gibson, 79. "We used to get these winds every winter." Despite their preparations Wednesday night, the back window of the Gibsons' new car was speared by a palm frond.
By early afternoon, the jacaranda trunk had been reduced to a stump and Barbara Gibson was warming her hands around a coffee mug.
"We'll move on," she said, gazing at the oak trees across the street. "We love it here."
PHOTOS: Santa Ana wind damage