Pine in the sky!

May 31, 2005 2:25 AM


Two weeks ago, construction workers at South Coast Hotel and Casino "topped out" their building with a pine tree that was hoisted to the top of the 25-story tower.

With so many other projects currently under construction in the Las Vegas area, the time-honored ceremony of topping out a building with an evergreen is expected to be duplicated many times over.

Yet, construction crews rarely agree on the reason that they raise the pine tree to its lofty perch.

"For some crews, the evergreen symbolizes the job went up without the loss of life," said James Newman of Art Iron, Inc. "For others it’s a good luck charm for the future occupants of the building."

There are plenty of historical accounts to support the latter theory.

In Scandinavia, for instance, the custom of hoisting an evergreen tree to the top of a building was a popular way of signaling the completion of a home.

Moreover, the ancient Norsemen practically worshipped evergreens, spruces and pines, which were used to construct their long ships, as well as their homes and shops.

Going back even further, Scandinavian mythology suggests that man originated from a tree and that topping out a home with the branch of an evergreen ensured a tree spirit would be preserved, as well as the health and happiness of the home’s occupants.

This explanation is not so farfetched from the carpenter’s tradition of nailing a tree branch to the rafters in order to entice the wood spirits to bestow good fortune on the house.

"The Christmas tree atop the last beam is an old timber-framer’s tradition ”¦ to signify a safe and successful raising and to pay respect to the wood that has given life to the frame," said Kim Stanfill of the U.S. Forest Service. "Some of the old-timers mark this occasion further by breaking a bottle of rum at the ridge and delivering a few lines of verse composed for the occasion."

Not all of the early topping out ceremonies were so uplifting. As early as 600 B.C., the Romans celebrated the completion of tall structures such as a bridge or aqueduct by throwing human beings off the top as sacrifices to the gods. And in ancient China, the uppermost structure of a building was smeared with chicken blood as a substitute for human blood — the workers hoped to "fool" the gods.

Given its rich and varied history, it will be interesting to watch future topping out ceremonies in Las Vegas.

Even the parent company of GamingToday, Dirson Enterprises, is expected to have a topping out ceremony for its new building currently under construction near Rainbow Blvd. and I-215.

Publisher Eileen Di Rocco said a local nursery has agreed to supply a potted evergreen, although she hasn’t ruled out other possibilities.

"I know a few handicappers who would make good sacrifices," Di Rocco said. "But we would probably get more mileage out of christening the new building with a bottle of chianti."