Anthony Schmitt creates a shopping cart tree every year at the Edgemar Center for the Arts. (Paul Alvarez Jr.
Anthony Schmitt creates a shopping cart tree every year at the Edgemar Center for the Arts. (Paul Alvarez Jr.
Anthony Schmitt creates a shopping cart tree every year at the Edgemar Center for the Arts. (Paul Alvarez Jr.

EDGEMAR CENTER — Just like a living tree, the Edgemar shopping cart tree is growing and spawning seedlings.

At 35 feet, this year’s tree is the tallest ever, said the creator, Santa Monica artist Anthony Schmitt.

He’s branched out to City of Hope Hospital in Duarte, Calif. putting up a 30-foot tree for their 100th anniversary. Another one went up in the Bay Area. Even Edgemar has a second smaller tree out on the street to draw people in.

Sixteen years after he built the first shopping cart tree, he still finds joy in setting it up for the season. Now he’s got a team and a system. Over the years his helpers have gained what he calls their “shopping cart legs,” likening the experience to working on a ship. The carts jingle festively as they build the massive tower, climbing toward the peak with their harnesses.

The tree, which is wrapped up like a present inside the Frank Gehry-designed building (Schmitt has heard that the famous architect likes it), is decorated differently on each side. This is meant to reflect people’s differing perceptions of the holidays, Schmitt said.

Steve Lee, who is visiting Santa Monica from Ohio, stopped to snap a few pictures of the smaller tree with his smartphone.

“It’s very shiny. The first thing I thought was, is this a commentary on consumer culture? I think it is,” he said.

Still, the prospect of an even bigger tree drew him past the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and into the courtyard.

“Now I’m wondering how they hold it all together,” he said.

Schmitt’s not a math guy but he likes answering the questions of the numerically obsessed. How many carts? 84. How many lights? 1,500. How many zip-ties hold the thing together? About 4,000.

He changes the aesthetics and style every year to give the sense that the iconic tree is growing. One year he decked the tree with blue Japanese LED lights that he bought in a little shop in Akihabra, a Tokyo neighborhood specializing in electronics.

“It was the most vivid blue tree ever,” he said. “And it was really one of my favorites because when we did the tree-lighting, and we actually flipped the switch, the gasp was so loud. I was shocked at how they reacted.”

Schmitt, who is also on the Main Street Business Improvement Association board, calls this year’s rendition the loyalty tree.

“Given that the businesses are keeping their doors open and trying to offer the best deals to people, it’s really such a collaboration on the part of the landlord, the businesses, the street and to promote the street,” he said.

Though Schmitt is an advocate for local businesses and —before moving to Santa Monica— did the window decorations for Barneys in New York City, there is tongue-and-cheekness to his Christmas tree made of shopping carts.

“I like that there’s this sense of order to chaos because there’s this geometry at the bottom and as they get higher they become chaotic,” he said, laughing. “I think that’s a great reflection of the holiday season.”

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