79 Years Ago, a Rose Queen Led the Ceremony Opening the Arroyo Seco Parkway

Published : Monday, December 30, 2019 | 6:17 AM

1941 Rose Queen Sally Stanton and California Governor Culbert L. Olsen led officials and community leaders at a dedication ceremony for the Arroyo Seco Parkway on December 30, 1940. Photo courtesy the Pasadena Museum of History

Not to be overlooked during local New Year’s preparations is the anniversary of an essential city feature that celebrates its 79th anniversary today: the Arroyo Seco Parkway, formerly called the Pasadena Freeway, connecting Pasadena to Los Angeles and beyond.

The Parkway was the first freeway to be built in California and represented the transition from the early parkways into modern freeways throughout the United States.

Built during the Great Depression, construction of the freeway provided employment for hundreds of people in Los Angeles. It was opened to vehicle traffic on December 30, 1940.

On that day, Rose Queen Sally Stanton and California Governor Culbert L. Olsen led officials and community leaders at a dedication ceremony. The freeway became part of U.S. Route 66 and became one of only three “federal scenic byways” in California at that time.

The six-lane freeway cut travel time between LA and Pasadena from 27 minutes to 12 minutes, based on the 45-mph speed limit set when it opened, and was considered an engineering landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The Parkway, which set the stage for LA’s expansive freeway system, was renamed the Pasadena Freeway in 1954, as the northern extension of State Route 110, but reverted to its original name in 2010.

In 2011, it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Because much of the historic roadway has remained largely unchanged since 1940, Caltrans has proposed a number of recommendations to improve traffic safety along the freeway, which may have conformed to modern standards in 1940 but is now considered too narrow and dangerous for the volume of traffic it now has to handle.

The Parkway was designed in the late 1930s to carry up to 27,000 cars a day; these days, more than 122,000 vehicles per day use the freeway.

Some of the little changes that have been actually implemented include the plants in its median being replaced by a steel guard rail, and most recently by concrete barriers.

In 2012, Caltrans came up with a report recommending limited improvements on the freeway, given the local community’s desire for historic preservation. The recommendations would lead to installation of an Intelligent Transportation System – meaning signage where needed, the addition of expanded shoulders and auxiliary lanes for both northbound lanes and southbound lanes, reconfigured on- and off-ramps, and integration of a regional bikeway system to support a desired multi-mode transportation network.

The recommendations also called for the development of a preservation plan for the National Register-listed Arroyo Seco historic district features outside of the Arroyo Seco Parkway, including bridges, the flood control channel and landscape areas that contribute to the district.

Last September, Caltrans held a scoping meeting among community stakeholders throughout the Pasadena area to gather inputs on proposals to increase motorist safety on the Arroyo Seco Parkway.

Caltrans said it is committed to preserving the integrity of the historic highway, but at the same time has to implement changes that would increase safety.

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