Little Bits of History

July 20

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 20, 2017

1940: The Arroyo Seco Parkway opens. The California roadway runs along the Arroyo Seco, a seasonal river. The road connected Los Angeles with Pasadena and was noted as the first freeway in Western United States. The six lanes are now part of State Route 101 and begins on the north side of downtown Los Angeles. The designation of freeway, and the move away from parkways was of significance. Freeways are limited access, high speed roads used to connect two points. The roads of the times were much less traveled and cars were not as ubiquitous as today. Parkways were roads through scenic areas, such as parks, hence the name. As more cars hit the roads and more commuters were on them, a better system was needed to get traffic moving with some flow.

The Arroyo Seco (Spanish for “dry gulch, or streambed”) carries rainfall from the San Gabriel Mountains. Waters travel south through Pasadena into the Los Angeles River – when water flows. During the dry season, the riverbed was used as a faster wagon connection between the two cities. The first survey of the area with an eye to a permanent roadway was done in 1895. In 1897, a proposal for a parkway and a second for a commuter cycle path was made. The latter was partially built by Horace Dobbins in 1899 and a 1.25 mile path opened in 1900. The path had a toll booth included but it never produced a profit. It was taken apart within ten years.

Cars became ever more numerous and various plans were put forth. The debate over the exact route and who would pay for it continued for decades. In order to connect a finally approved road, Los Angeles improved the North Figueroa Street to a four lane road. The citizens of Pasadena were worried about traffic patterns halving their city and traffic patterns resulting from the split. Before construction began, there were nine roads and two rail lines crossing the Arroyo Seco and its valley. There would be more bridges needed as part of the project and only four of the original bridges were kept. More bridges in Pasadena were built to connect each side of the city.

The road was designed by Spencer V Cortelyou and AD Griffin with a groundbreaking ceremony on March 22, 1938. The first stretch of road was opened on December 10, 1938 and it contained no bridges. On this day, a 3.7 mile stretch actually connecting Los Angeles to Pasadena opened. The remainder opened on December 30, 1940. The name of the road changed in 1954 when it was called the Pasadena Freeway and it reverted back to Arroyo Seco Parkway in 2010. It covers a total of 8.162 miles. Many of the median plants have been removed for safety features to be added. While state of the art at the time of building, today it is considered to be a narrow and outdated highway. Even so, it has been designated as a State Scenic Highway, National Civil Engineering Landmark, and National Scenic Byway. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2011.

The road to success is always under construction.- Arnold Palmer

If you don’t like the road you’re walking, start paving another one. – Dolly Parton

If you have men who will only come if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all. – David Livingstone

The road is hard, and you have to get accustomed to it. – Miranda Lambert


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