© 2024 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Already a star in the Keys, Fred the Tree is now going to Hollywood

Keys Fred the tree
Kristen Livengood / Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Fred the Tree, a popular sight for Keys locals, is set to have a role alongside Hollywood star Jake Gyllenhaal in the remake of 1980s cult classic 'Road House'

Fred the Tree is a Keys classic: A tree growing out of another Keys classic — the old Seven Mile Bridge — that mysteriously gets decorated for Christmas every year.

The Australian pine commands a remote piece of the bridge, which closed to traffic in 1982 but still stands — in sections — parallel to the present-day Seven Mile Bridge that connects the Lower Keys to the Middle Keys.

A green burst of life visible from the heavily-traveled section of the Overseas Highways, Fred is a delight for drivers and something of a local celebrity, with 24,000 followers on his Facebook page.

So when it emerged Oscar-nominated heartthrob Jake Gyllenhaal was coming to town make a movie, the buzz in the Keys was actually about his surprise co-star: yes, Fred is going Hollywood.

The news that the beloved tree would be in the remake of cult favorite Road House were broken by Fred himself, on his Facebook page.

And, in classic Keys style, the hullabaloo was all about the timing of Fred's Christmas garb, rather than the arrival of one of Hollywood's biggest celebrities.

Apparently Gyllenhaal wants Fred "naked" for the upcoming shoot, so there will be a delay to the annual tradition that sees locals cover Fred with lights for December.

While the remake of the 1989 Patrick Swayze film — about a talented bouncer who saves a troubled small town in Missouri — will this time be set in the Keys, it will not take place at Christmastime.

"Jake needs to reschedule," responded one Facebook fan of Fred's festive look. Another joked that Fred will now be a "celebri-tree".

Keys Film Commissioner Chad Newman has made arrangements so the film crew could capture him in his natural glory and locals wouldn't have their hard work disturbed. The crew is shooting Fred the first week of December, so the tree will be dressed up a few days later than in a typical year.

The group of festive decorators lets the Monroe County Sheriff's Office and other officials know before they go out to dress Fred for the season. But they don't disclose their schedule — or how they get onto a piece of the bridge that’s not connected to land to cover the tree with lights.

people decorate an australian pine on a disconnected section of the old Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys
Kristen Livengood
for WLRN
Every year, a crew of anonymous "elves" decorate the Australian pine known as Fred the Tree on a section of the old Seven Mile Bridge.

More than just scenery, a metaphor

It seems like the delay will be worthwhile. Newman says Fred will be in an opening scene of the film — and will be somewhat pivotal to the main character's journey.

"The main character [played by] Jake Gyllenhaal arrives on a Greyhound Bus," Newman said. "They’re going to drive over the Seven Mile Bridge and they’re going to see Fred the Tree." 

But Fred is more than just scenery in Road House. He is even listed by name in the script.

"A lonely tree sitting out in the middle of a bridge, solitary, is a metaphor for the main character," said Newman, who has read the script.

Will Fred the Tree appear in the ending credits of Road House? "I don't know if he'll be credited, but I think we can all make the case that he should be," Newman said.

Road House is due to stream on Amazon Prime in 2023.

The Old Seven Mile Bridge where Fred holds court, was originally part of Flagler Railroad. Today, it remains an indelible part of the breathtaking Keys landscape.

One piece of the bridge is open as a recreation area where people bike or walk across with blue seas on both sides of their path. But the piece Fred stands out on is not connected to land.

Gwen Filosa covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. She has been reporting from the island chain for over a decade, from Cuban landings and the workforce housing crisis, to the oddities and charms of the Keys.
More On This Topic