Richard Todd first saw the Pegasus Plaza Christmas tree when he was visiting downtown Dallas in late 2017.
The tree caught his eye because rather than it having traditional round Christmas ornaments, it’s adorned with a red vintage car-themed bumper, a few fenders and a handful of car lights. He took a few photos of the vintage car-themed tree and uploaded them to his social media accounts, he said.
“I posted it to Facebook, and someone asked me how many different cars were involved,” he said. “I spent about an hour trying to dig that info up, but I was never able to find that out.”
Since he couldn’t find any information online about the tree, Todd decided to ask Curious Texas: How many tails, fins and grills are in the red junkyard car tree in Pegasus Plaza?
The car tree was designed by Lonnie Hanzon, a Denver-based artist, as a holiday window display for Neiman Marcus in 2003. Hanzon said he was commissioned to create the tree by Ignaz Gorischek, the former vice president of store development for the Dallas-based luxury retailer.
“He was the mastermind behind all of the wonderful visuals you use to see at Neiman,” Hanzon said about Gorischek
After taking on the project, Hanzon said he began scouting for the tree’s car parts at a nearby junkyard in Denver. He would put on his boots and other protective gear and mark each part he liked by spray painting “Lonnie” on it for a welder to take apart.
He also bought some parts from some vintage car owners, although not everyone was supportive of his project.
“There were some car collectors who weren’t very happy,” Hanzon said of the tree, laughing. “There were some people who refused to sell me parts when they found out what it was for.”
But Hanzon said he doesn’t really know the exact number of each car part he used to create the Christmas tree. The parts were taken from one to two dozen cars made between 1949 and 1962, he said. Some of the lights are also from a vintage school bus he found in the junkyard.
The fins are from Cadillacs, Chevrolet Bel Airs and Impalas. The tree weighs several thousand pounds, was originally 16-feet tall with car parts painted in five different shades of red, he said.
Hanzon said it was also difficult to keep track of the pieces, because just when he thought he had completed the project, Gorischek would suggest adding more items to the tree.
“He was quite the taste master,” he said, laughing. “Whenever you thought you were finished, he would walk in and go, ‘yeah, that’s really beautiful, but wouldn’t it be more beautiful if you added 45 more hubcaps by tomorrow?’
“And I would say, ‘okay, yeah.’”
Hanzon said Neiman Marcus liked the tree so much they kept it in storage for several years.
Neiman Marcus donated the tree to the economic development group Downtown Dallas, Inc. to debut at Pegasus Plaza Christmas 2012, said Matt Thomas, the group’s spokesman.
Thomas said via email Gorischek was inspired to commission the tree after being mesmerized by the “beautiful glow the various brake lights created” while sitting in traffic on rainy evenings on his way home.
When the tree was donated to Downtown Dallas, Inc., Hanzon helped restore the Car Tree at the plaza. The tree was placed on a large base, which made it grow to its current 23-foot height, to prevent people from climbing it, Hanzon said.
He said he hasn’t seen the tree in roughly six years, but he’s happy it’s become part of Dallas’ holiday scene.
“I’m glad the car tree continues on,” Hanzon said.