[Return to Floodgap Roadgap]

['EXIT' Back]

America's First Freeway

Part 3: Northbound Arroyo Seco Parkway (CA 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.] In 1911, landscape architect Laurie Cox submitted a proposal to the Los Angeles Park Commission for a "parkway" — half-park, half-roadway — designed to simultaneously improve traffic congestion caused by the rapidly burgeoning population of motorists, as well as make that same drive more pleasant. Great minds must have thought alike, because the City of Pasadena proposed the same route in a "high speed" (by the standards of the day) form as a connector to Los Angeles in 1916. Cox's idea would, by 1940, yield what then-Governor Culbert L. Olson would declare to be "the first freeway in the West" — opened in grand form 30 December 1940 with a blessing from Native Americans, a four-hundred plus automobile caravan, a brass band and a 15,000-person audience. Constructed between 1938 and 1940, the three-lanes-per-direction Arroyo Seco Parkway was an immediate success, so successful that the California Department of Highways (as it was called) petitioned AASHTO to re-route US 66, which then still ran on the parallel alignment along Figueroa St, to the new parkway and leave CA 11 on the old route with the new designation of US 66 ALTERNATE (or US 66A on some maps). This was granted in October 1940; the extension to Los Angeles of the now Arroyo Seco Freeway, including the famous Four-Level interchange with US 101, was completed in 1952, and the entire route would be renamed the Pasadena Freeway in 1954. After the Great Renumbering and US 66's demise, CA 11 took on the entire designation, including the Harbor Fwy we just travelled, and was redesignated Route 110 in 1981.

From its opening day until the present time, it represents the best and worst of freeway design: an innovative (for the time) construction done with a lamentably short-sighted view of the future explosion in automobile use, resulting in the recurrently snarled freeway we have today which has been preserved in nearly the same form as it was built originally over 60 years ago. During its earliest days, the Arroyo Seco Pkwy was considered leisurely and scenic (an amusing irony to harrassed denizens of CA 110 today), darting between small tree-lined parks with occasional vistas of the San Gabriel mountains in the distance. Without cross-traffic to distract drivers, it was genuinely a pleasure to drive, and at least initially fulfilled both of Laurie Cox's original aims of relieving traffic snarls (with an impressive top speed of around 45mph -- funny how little has changed, eh?) but remaining a elegant, beautiful civil engineering package. However, in a manner prescient of many future Los Angeles area freeways, it was already well in excess of its design capacity when it was introduced; its generous shoulder had to be hastily adopted as the third lane (its paving with asphalt leading to the characteristic two-tone road surface; see the Caltrans archival photograph at left for the original configuration), and a combination of geographic limitations, budget constraints and irregularities over abutting right-of-way would result in the Pkwy's characteristic tight curves, limiting its effective maximum speed and rapidly annihilating any practicality for large truck traffic (witness the bright white "NO TRUCKS" signs that plaster all present-day CA 110 advance signage; trucks were banned from the Pkwy as early as 1943). On top of all that, concurrent construction of the Arroyo Seco Flood Control Channel, a Depression-relief Work Progress Administration project, was the only thing preventing the entire parkway from being washed away by the Arroyo Seco itself. (Spanish speakers will find this especially funny, since arroyo seco is supposed to mean dry gully!) Nevertheless, its economic and engineering importance cannot be overstated, particularly as it was the basis on which most of the remainder of the Los Angeles freeway system was built (being the first). It is undoubtedly for this reason that Caltrans brought the old name back for the original section in 2010, and the Parkway itself being designated as a historical engineering landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in February 2011.

Signage for the Arroyo Seco Parkway (2009 and 2018), though the 2018 sign is curiously blanked.

Arroyo Seco Parkway Northbound (CA 110)

We now return to the Arroyo Seco Pkwy for our final leg back to Pasadena.

Advance signage for the I-5 north exit, with special left lane controls. We will see these a little later.
Entering the first of the four Figueroa Street Tunnels.
[Map of the Arroyo Seco Pkwy in 1947. Click for a larger view in a new window (85K).] The connections of the Arroyo Seco from Elysian Park to Los Angeles proper were originally done on North Figueroa Street using four tunnels built between 1931 and 1936. This was an obvious bottleneck, compressing six lanes of traffic into four, and a parallel set of lanes was constructed between 1940 and 1943 which is now the southbound set we traveled in Part 1 (the tunnels subsequently serving exclusively northbound traffic), with the effect of cutting Figueroa into several discontinuous and today reconstructed pieces. CA 110 and modern Figueroa are merged here; they will not separate until we get to the Viaduct at the end of the tunnels.

The tunnel here was the last to be built, in 1935-6. The three beyond it originally functioned as a street bypass and were opened in 1931.

The thumbnail at right links to a map image of the route in 1947, after its full construction but before its expansion. The parallel carriageways can be seen on that map south of Avenue 26, which carried US 6 and US 99.

Passing through the tunnel (an old image I kept because I like the effect).
Immediately past the 1935 tunnel is the Solano Ave exit (exit 25), which is very sharp and badly signed, shown here in 2005 and 2009.
The three 1931 tunnels peeping through to the 1937 Figueroa Viaduct beyond.
Three views of the final northbound tunnel, 2005, 2009 and 2018.
In 2005, the old signage was still up. A CA 110 coverplate is over a CA 11, but the most interesting change is a "Sacramento" plate incompletely covering what was obviously Bakersfield as the control city (via US 99). Multiple warnings appear for the low 13' clearance and the sharp turn onto the exit.

In 2009, the old signs were taken down and a new gantry installed with a variable sign in the middle requiring the use of the left lane only for I-5 during rush hour. This sign is extinguished at all other times. Also notice the warning not to cross the lane lights when illuminated.

In 2018, this was made even clearer with additional signage, and a turn warning was added under the flashing lights. The dingy ghosts of the original signage hanging from the tunnel mouth are still visible.

US 6 and US 99 exit with the Golden State Fwy north.
The Sacramento coverplate is still up on this 1968 signage. Notice the lane control lights beyond the exit. The spiral structure is a pedestrian walkway with steps, which can better be seen in Google Street View.
Figueroa St and former ALT US 66/CA 11 separate here at exit 26B as we cross the Los Angeles River, here, as virtually everywhere along its present 51-mile course, boxed into a concrete culvert.
Passing under the Golden State Fwy, we see the original Avenue 26 bridge over the railroad tracks, first built in 1925 and subsequently extended in 1939.
Three Arroyo Seco historic signs, all in maddeningly variable locations, from 2005, 2009 and 2018.
[Caltrans new signage] For a number of years Caltrans District 7 had a project on the books, part of their plan to designate CA 110 as a National Scenic Byway (which occurred in 2002), to improve the corridor with redesigned walkways, designated greenspaces and interpretive zones. Part of this redevelopment involved re-signing CA 110 with new, unusual brown overhead signs with a leaf-and-branch motif as shown at right. While these signs have yet to appear, a large amount of new conventional signage has since been installed along with Arroyo Seco Pkwy markings which are gradually displacing the old Pasadena Fwy signage. Unfortunately, without sensitivity to preserving the old signage and design, much of the old architectural and civil engineering style (even the crummy bits) may be plowed under and lost forever in the name of alleged cultural advancement. Caltrans eventually abandoned the custom signage concept in lieu of more conventional upgrades, and the project no longer appears as active for District 7.
Advance signage for our first exit, for Avenue 43. The two-tone pavement from incorporating the old breakdown lane is apparent right away.
Yes, do watch for slow traffic.
Separation (exit 27).

Detour: Avenue 43

This is a good example of signage and exit configuration. I am using 2009 footage here since it came out a little clearer, but nothing much has changed since then.

The sharp exit is a classic right-in/right-out. The 5mph warning at the exit wasn't kidding; sharp deceleration is required. Similarly, there is a stop sign for entering traffic.
Exiting to the end of the, uh, ramp, crossing the Arroyo Seco itself.
The two kinds of classic Los Angeles street sign, including the earlier painted enamel ones.
Looping around back to the freeway on, er, ramp.
Heading back with a nice 1940 date stamp right on the Arroyo Seco bridge. We floor it after coming to a complete stop.

End Detour

Advance signage for Ave 52, with the old lane arrow coverplated over.
Entering Highland Park again, with a sign nearly identical to Part 1.
More advance signage, with an obvious coverplate for Via Marisol.
The greenout undoubtedly dates back to 1978, when controversial city councilman Art Snyder determined to rename Hermon Avenue to Via Marisol after his three-year-old daughter Erin Marisol Snyder. Hermon Avenue derived its name from the hamlet of Hermon, established in the L.A. hills in 1903 by a group of Free Methodists who borrowed the name from the famous Middle Eastern mountain, and eventually incorporated into the City of Los Angeles in 1912. When Snyder's proposal was discovered, allegedly as part of an affordable housing project, local residents were outraged and submitted a petition with exactly 110 signatures to the city council (which was ignored). Snyder tried to placate the constituency by adding additional Hermon signage and renaming the community centre, but he finally stepped down for reported family reasons in 1985. Convicted of campaign finance violations in 1996, he passed away in 2012, but the community never forgot the slight and at least some unsuccessful effort was made at that time to change the street name back. No one knows what his daughter's opinion is.

The greenout is actually useful from a historical perspective, because it means the signage can be no more recent than Snyder's renaming attempt. In fact, much of the signage here dates to a 1968 upgrade (see proof in a moment).

Here is one of the later ca. 1949 breakdown areas, carved into the side kerb to ameliorate the loss of the breakdown lane, just before Ave 52. Some have callboxes.
Avenue 52 exit, with a "down" arrow for the exit, and a little smaller modern sign just in case you miss it.
A 1968 date stamp is on the rear.
Advance signage for Hermon Ave Via Marisol.
Curving around old Hermon.
Exit for Via Marisol (exit 28B).
NB CA 110.
Avenue 60 exit, under another charming ornate bridge, built 1939.
Passing under the Santa Fe Arroyo Seco Viaduct, also known as the Santa Fe Arroyo Seco Railroad Bridge.
Built in 1896, the Santa Fe Arroyo Seco Viaduct was an important local rail conduit for short-hop traffic between Los Angeles and Pasadena. It is 56' tall and extends 713', making it the tallest and longest railroad span in Los Angeles, and replaced earlier wooden trestles built in 1889 and 1885. Its initial service history ended in 1994 but was subsequently retrofitted and once again returned to passenger rail service, this time via the MTA Gold Line, in 2003. It was designed a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 1988.
Marmion Way/Ave 64 exit.
Advance signage for Bridewell St.
The York Blvd bridge, built in 1912. There is no access to York Blvd from NB CA 110.
Bridewell St (exit 30B).
Advance signage for Orange Grove Ave.
Entering the city of South Pasadena again as we cross the Arroyo Seco Channel at PM 30.08. Notice the faded 0 on the bridge postmile.
The Arroyo Seco channel itself, with just a little water in it, living up to its name.
The rock "CITY OF SOUTH PASADENA" lettering seen here to the right of the northbound lanes was constructed ca. 1938 from stones in the former creekbed, which is now concreted over.
First signage for the end of the freeway.
Orange Grove Ave (exit 31A).

Detour: Orange Grove Avenue

A slightly different exit configuration. Again, I am using 2009 footage since the light was a little better, but it was the same in 2018.

This one, however, has a more proper diamond exit configuration, even though it was also built in 1940.
Signage to Pasadena, which is, as you'd expect, to the north.
Pasadena Fwy signage is still up here, and on button copy.
Unfortunately, the on-ramp is still very substandard, with a STOP sign and no acceleration lane.

End Detour

Advance signage for Fair Oaks Ave.
In 2005, there was a leader sign for South Pasadena just before the exit, but it seems to have disappeared.
Fair Oaks Avenue (exit 31B). This is the last freeway exit.
End freeway signage.
As we curve around Raymond Hill we pass one last CA 11 postmile, at PM 31.50.
Signal warning lights as the freeway terminates.
End freeway at Glenarm St, becoming Arroyo Pkwy.
Arroyo Parkway Northbound ("TO I-210")

This is the end of the legislative definition. The portions here up to unsigned CA 710, which we talked about in the beginning of Part 1, are maintained by the City of Pasadena and were relinquished in 2000. Prior to that the legislative definition extended up to US 66's former routing along Colorado Blvd (as did the definition for CA 11 after 1964), and simply ended there in space after US 66 was decommissioned.

Signage today simply says "TO I-210."
California Blvd, with "TO I-210 WEST" signage. "TO I-210 EAST" continues north to Colorado Blvd and then up Marengo Ave, though you can access both directions of I-210 from here, and we'll turn left and prove it.
Although this stretch of CA 110 had long since been relinquished to the City of Pasadena, an NB CA 110 shield persisted for a few years past the California Blvd intersection (here shown in 2005).
California Blvd and Raymond Ave, with a flashing yellow "yield" arrow, uncommon in California.
Pasadena Ave and signage for "TO I-210 WEST CA 134." We turn right.
The stub of unsigned CA 710, 2009 and 2018.
In the 2009 image, arrows were used to depict which lanes were used for which highway, as access to CA 134 occurs from a second slip ramp about a block north and is not accessible from this one. It's not at all obvious that you'd have to keep going to the next ramp for CA 134, so the later sign simply says which lanes.
Onramp for CA 710, signed as EB I-210, even though it goes to both WB I-210 (due north) and EB I-210.
CA 710 Northbound

For the history of this alignment and the former Route 7 designation, see Part 1 and CA 7's Mass Grave entry.

Blank, now never-to-be-used overhead signage.
Remnant CA 7 postmile, at PM R32.10.
Notice the signage for WB CA 134, but you can't get there from here.
Separation. We exit to EB I-210; the left lane connects with the due-north section of WB I-210 as the continuation of the Foothill Fwy.
An actual Route 710 postmile (here somewhat blown out by the sun) at PM R32.51. There's a better picture of it on the Conventions, Glossary and Guidelines page.
This is the last Route 710 postmile I can find, at PM R32.69.
First Route 210 postmile, erroneously referencing Route 170 instead of 710, as we merge onto EB I-210.
Speeding away into the East.
Get out of the car (because the 210 is always crammed in the afternoon)
All images, photographs and multimedia, unless otherwise stated, are copyright © 2004-2022 Cameron Kaiser. All rights reserved. All writeups are copyright © 2004-2022 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.

Go back to the main Roadgap page
[Main page]