Sign Hill 'Light Tree' illuminates the spirit of cancer patient Juliana Peña

ByVictoria Vallecorse Localish logo
Thursday, December 15, 2022
This 90-foot light tree stands as a symbol of hope
This 90-foot Christmas tree stands as a symbol of hope in memory of pediatric cancer patient Juliana Peña.

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- Standing tall atop a 581-foot hill, Sign Hill Tree illuminates the night sky with its 784 bulbs. The vibrant landmark can be seen far and wide, shining as a symbol of hope and the holiday season.

Installed in 1969, the structure is actually a 90-foot telephone pole with strands of steel cables that hold lights, which take the shape of a Christmas tree. It can be seen from the Peninsula, East Bay, and even on flights to and from SFO.

"There's not a bad angle for you to look at the tree," expressed SSF Vice Mayor Buenaflor Nicolas.

"We have generations of South City residents that look up and see that tree, and they know they're home," said SSF Mayor Mark Nagales.

For South City native Jesus Peña, the tree reminds him of his daughter.

"She, as a little kid, loved this tree. From our house, Juliana would look out the window and look up towards the tree and call it 'Light Tree' when she'd see it on," recalled Peña. "When I see the tree, I blow three kisses to it. That's what I would do with Juliana, I would give her three besitos, rub her nose, and then give her another besito."

Peña continued, "That tree is not a tree anymore, to me, it's the soul of Juliana, it's the life of her."

At two and a half years old, Juliana passed away from neuroblastoma in 2012. She battled the rare pediatric cancer for 10 months, and throughout rigorous treatment, Juliana kept spirits bright with her glowing personality.

"Here she is in the hospital, with the broviacs in her chest, and she has a big smile on her face," remembered Peña while sharing family photos. "I promised her that as long as I was alive, somebody would say her name every day or would know her story."

After her passing, Peña and Juliana's mom, Patricia, set out to create awareness surrounding childhood cancer.

"We thought the biggest awareness tool here in our city of South San Francisco was the tree on Sign Hill," said Peña. "We knew it was a tough task because that tree has never been lit for any other month besides December."

Their ultimate goal was to have the tree lit in gold during September (Childhood Cancer Awareness Month) to commemorate their daughter and all lives lost to pediatric cancer.

"Jesus and Patricia lobbied the city council to make sure that childhood cancer awareness was brought upon us, and also for us to learn about it, to advocate for more funding for it," described Nagales. "Every September since that day, we've lit the tree up in memory of Juliana."

Nicolas adds, "By lighting the tree in September and December, the tree in some sort of way keeps Juliana alive."

During September, the tree is lit in gold, which is the color of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. In December, the tree shines with red and green bulbs.

"I hope when people see Light Tree lit in December and September that it gives them a feeling of warmth knowing that the tree means so much to so many people and to the city of South San Francisco," said Peña.

To learn more about Juliana's journey, visit here.

Stay updated on South San Francisco events and happenings on the City of South San Francisco website.

And be sure to check out Everything South City for more information about Light Tree.