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America's First Freeway

Part 1: Southbound Arroyo Seco Parkway (CA 110) and Harbor Freeway (I-110)

Go to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

[Los Angeles 1947-1999] This scrolling map shows this route and other important nearby Los Angeles routes in 1947, 1957, 1965, 1976, 1984 and 1999.

Click the thumbnail to open the map in a new window.

[This photoessay is presented with a 16:9 aspect ratio.] Two classic Los Angeles highways share one long route number: the Harbor Freeway and the Arroyo Seco Parkway. Signed as Route 11 in 1934 and overlapped famously with US 6, US 66 and US 99 in 1937, the elimination of US 66 and US 99 and the truncation of US 6 with the 1964 California Great Renumbering once again left them united as CA 11. CA 11 was changed to Route 110 in 1981 when the Harbor Freeway, by then Interstate-grade, was approved by the Federal Highway Administration as chargeable Interstate in 1978. The northern Arroyo Seco Parkway, remaining a throwback to its original 1940s design as America's first freeway, does not bear an Interstate shield and Caltrans considers Route 110 one continuous route with different signage.

In this three-part photoessay, we will treat them largely as one continuous highway as well, although we will emphasize the Arroyo Seco Pkwy portion (primarily Part 3) because of its more unusual features and longer history. Similarly, I will reserve much of the long-form historical discussions for the following sections.

This first part, then, is an overview and a brief survey of the entire southbound alignment from Pasadena to San Pedro, with special attention paid to certain unique attributes only seen from the southbound side. Some of the photography here is among the earliest I ever took for Floodgap Roadgap dating back to March 2005, and I've included those lower quality images here scattered amongst the modern ones where they provide interesting signage or vistas now lost to subsequent construction. In addition, these are also some of the earliest shots I took in 2009 with a "flying camera," a high-definition video camera setup with special adjustments made for grabbing stills at very fast shutter speeds to eliminate motion blur. Although these early shots were not properly colour compensated and evidence a characteristic green tint caused by the windscreen (now adjusted for on current photography with a special red lens), they nevertheless contain other important views and signs of these historic highways, and are duly included here for comparison as well.

Photography taken March 2005, May 2005, June 2009 and February 2018.

Approaching the "signed terminus" of CA 110 from westbound Interstate 210 in Pasadena.
Old and new advance signage (2009 and 2018).
More old and new advance signage (2009 and 2018).
I-210 separation (2009 and 2018). This is the beginning of CA 134 and the eastern terminus of the Ventura Fwy.
Exiting "TO 110." This signage was still up in 2018.

CA 710 Southbound ("TO CA 110")

However, this route here is an anomaly, because as the sign hints the highway we exit onto isn't CA 110: it's actually unsigned CA 710, the northernmost discontinuous segment of what was supposed to be Interstate 710.

Although I-710 is the Long Beach Freeway, that designation ends in Alhambra where the current freeway does, and its ancestor Los Angeles River Freeway (then signed CA 15) was never intended to go further north than the Santa Ana Fwy (now I-5). In 1961 the Calfornia Division of Highways started exploring extension options north of Interstate 10 and adopted a routing in 1964. At this point during the California Great Renumbering the 15 route number was assigned to Interstate 15 and the Long Beach Fwy became Route 7.

The first extension in 1965 brought the freeway to its present terminus at Valley Blvd and Caltrans continued the purchase of further right-of-way including several hundred homes. However, lawsuits were first filed in 1973 based on the new NEPA and CEQA environmental policies and tied the project up in court for years despite the Federal Highway Administration approving it as non-chargeable Interstate in 1983. Nonetheless, Caltrans still managed to complete the northern Pasadena terminus of future Interstate 710 in 1975, the alignment we will drive here.

In 1984, Caltrans obtained AASHTO approval to convert the Long Beach Fwy from CA 7 to I-710, though other marks of the old number still remain. Public opposition to the various alternative surface routings to connect to the 1975 northern stub nevertheless mounted rapidly, with over 20 variations being entertained, and in 1999 a preliminary injunction prevented Caltrans from proceeding further with the surface project. Although a tunnel alternative was first proposed in 2004, years of study amidst local criticism eventually concluded tunneling, albeit technically feasible, would be unacceptably expensive, potentially traversed underground faults and wouldn't address concerns over air quality. In 2018, the entire project was abandoned for local street improvements instead and the routing between Alhambra and Pasadena will be officially deleted from the state highway code in 2024. Caltrans has been slowly divesting themselves of the right-of-way acquired back in the 1960s, but the Alhambra and Pasadena stubs remain state highway to this day and are the last pieces of the failed expansion that are still extant.

Exiting onto secret CA 710.
Only postmiles give it away.
Through the tunnel.
The Pasadena stub is not long; we will terminate pretty quickly.
Distance signage on the pull-through.
Del Mar Avenue exit.
Yes, modern California certainly does end freeways.
Some of the postmiles date back to the 1975 construction when this was still CA 7 (here at PM R32.12).
Southern terminus of the Pasadena stub at California Blvd. We turn left.

TO CA 110

This section is maintained by the City of Pasadena.

Following this sign strictly, we might turn right on Raymond, but we'll continue to Arroyo Pkwy across the tracks and turn right.
Arroyo Seco Parkway Southbound (CA 110)

This was the Pasadena Fwy from 1954 to 2010. We'll have much more to say about it in Part 3.

First shield at Glenarm St. Remember this for the way back.
Fair Oaks Avenue exit. In 2005, a Historic Arroyo Seco Parkway sign and this old button copy exit sign (from a 1968 signage retrofit) greeted you on the northern terminus of the Arroyo Seco Freeway.
The modern sign for Fair Oaks Ave is certainly cleaner, but not exactly vintage.
South Pasadena city limits as we curve around Raymond Hill.
The old Fair Oaks offramp is here at the curve south of the current exit. It mostly just attracts homeless encampments now, having been abandoned due to poor visibility and risk of accidents.
Orange Grove Ave pull-thru and distance signage with the old lane arrow marking, no longer generally used.
Several old marks of Route 11 still survive on postmiles. Here's one.
There are no US 6, US 66 or US 99 postmiles remaining as both US 66 and US 99 were eliminated in California by the 1964 Great Renumbering which introduced the postmile system, and US 6 was truncated by the same action. CA 11 from 1940 to 1964 ran on the old parallel alignment on Figueroa St, but CA 11 was moved back to the Arroyo Seco Pkwy in 1964 to take over the vacated alignment and thus does have postmiles.
Orange Grove Ave exit. We'll look at this exit on the way back in Part 3.
Another Route 11 postmile crossing the Arroyo Seco ("dry riverbed") channel at PM 30.20. We'll take a look on the northbound side of this in Part 3 too.
More advance signage. Lots of button copy survives on this stretch.
The design speed, however, sometimes needs work.
Entering Highland Park as we cross from the City of South Pasadena into the City of Los Angeles.
Highland Park was one of the city's first subdivisions when annexed in 1895. The construction of the Arroyo Seco Pkwy in 1940 accelerated neighbourhood change as white residents moved further out to the suburbs, though gentrification is also changing the demographics of the now primarily Hispanic population.
York Blvd "exit," more of a RIRO than an actual ramp (note the 5mph speed).
The throwback design with attributes like those does not lend itself well to high-speed traffic. We'll examine some exits in Part 3.
A Route 11 postmile at PM 26.9.
Advance signage for the I-5 Golden State Fwy interchange. Note that US 101 is now signed with CA 110, though it obviously isn't co-routed here.
I-5 Golden State Fwy separation (SB), former US 6/99.
As well as being former US 66, historic US 6 joins us here after its move to the Harbor Fwy, starting in 1952 with the opening of the downtown Four Level Interchange; US 6 proceeds northbound with the Golden State Fwy to the Newhall Pass where it separates. We continue as CA 110/historic US 6/US 66/US 99/former CA 11.
Avenue 26, old CA 163, and prior to that the surface alignment of US 6 and US 99 until the Golden State Fwy's construction.
Swiveling onto the 1943 southbound lanes, constructed after the 1931-6 (now) northbound Figueroa Street Tunnels for extra capacity, which we will see more of in Part 3. This part of Ave 26's bridge was a 1939 extension.
Academy Rd exit.
Stadium Way advance signage and exit.
Civic Center and exit, and advance signage for the Four-Level Interchange.
I-5 is given as the south side even though the interchange is entirely US 101 due to the proximity to the Hollywood Fwy/US 101's modern southern terminus.
Sunset Blvd advance signage and exit as we approach ...

The Four-Level Interchange (Southbound)

When built in 1949 and opened in 1952, the $5.5 million (approximately $60 million today) Four-Level Interchange was the first stack interchange in the world and the terminus of four major named freeways of Los Angeles, i.e., the Hollywood Freeway, the Santa Ana Freeway, the Harbor Freeway and the Arroyo Seco Parkway/Pasadena Freeway. On the topmost ramp is US 101 on the Hollywood Fwy (US 66 exited here to join it), with southbound US 101 on the Santa Ana Fwy on the second-topmost (US 99 also exits here to the San Bernardino Freeway), southbound US 6 moving onto the Harbor Fwy second from the bottom and northbound US 6 joining US 66 onto the Arroyo Seco Pkwy/Pasadena Fwy on the bottom (Part 3). Today US 101 still occupies the top two tiers, but its hitchhikers are gone, and the bottom two are now solely CA 110.

The 1956 photograph at right shows the original signage. We'll look at a couple other historical signage examples when we come back in Part 2.

In July 2006 the interchange was officially named in honour of Bill Keene, whom I remember as a kid for his bad jokes as KNX 1070 AM's resident traffic reporter though his career extended long before that. A fixture in LA broadcasting since the 1970s, he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1992 before retiring in 1993 and passing away of a stroke in 2000 at the age of 73. I enjoyed his puns, but even I don't call the interchange the "Keene" and I suspect he wouldn't have either.

Bill Keene Memorial Interchange signage.
Exit for "SOUTH I-5/NORTH US 101."
Both directions are actually US 101, however, and it is only signed as such because of the proximity of US 101's modern southern terminus at the East L.A. Interchange. Also note the 1948 bridge date and the older Harbor Fwy pull-thru signage with CA 110 on an obvious coverplate (covering, based on the likely 1970s vintage of the sign, a CA 11 shield).
Separation (2009 and 2018).
Compare these two pictures with the 1956 view above. While the old advance signage on the left survived, the freeway names are removed from the new signage, and US 101 is now signed in both directions despite the preceding sign (but the southbound exit now also lists the other various component routes of the East L.A. Interchange, namely I-10, I-5 and CA 60).
Passing through the Interchange stack on "Level 2" at PM 23.69.
Harbor Freeway Southbound (CA 110)

The northbound alignment is the subject of the next Part.

First signage for I-110 with advance signage for downtown exits (2009 and 2018), but this is still technically CA 110.
Downtown exits (2009 and 2018).
Advance signage for the Interstate 10 Santa Monica Freeway, which is where CA 110 switches to Interstate 110.
CA 110 Harbor Fwy signage on the onramp at right.
Advance signage for 8th and 9th Sts (or, in this direction, 9th and 8th).
9th and 8th St exit and advance signage for the interchange with the Interstate 10 Santa Monica Fwy.
I-10 separation (2009 and 2018).
The new signage is a bit confused, though, because CA 110 does not extend south of I-10.
Harbor Freeway Southbound (Interstate 110)

We now officially begin the Interstate-shield portion, but we'll fast-forward to the southern terminus in San Pedro and loop around in the next Part.

Approaching San Pedro, with the landmark smokestack.
Advance signage for the CA 47 junction and the freeway's end at Gaffey St in San Pedro.
CA 47 separation via the Vincent Thomas Bridge to Terminal Island and the final exit on I-110.
Coasting down the terminal ramp.
End I-110 at Gaffey St.
Continue to Part 2
All images, photographs and multimedia, unless otherwise stated, are copyright © 2004-2024 Cameron Kaiser. All rights reserved. All writeups are copyright © 2004-2024 Cameron Kaiser. All rights reserved. Unauthorized copying or duplication without express consent of the copyright holder is strictly prohibited. Please contact the sitemaster to request permission if you wish to use items from this page.

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