Highland Park is home to many of Los Angeles' firsts. How appropriate, then, that it is also the location of not just the first freeway in California, but in the United States. The Arroyo Seco Parkway began construction in the 1930s after the Automobile Club of Southern California lobbied the state legislature to extend rural highways into urban areas. The 8.2 mile stretch of road cost approximately $6 million dollars to build, and would pave the way for the rest of Los Angeles' expansive freeway system.
The parkway was designed to advance automobile transportation, while giving drivers access to the stunning views of the Arroyo Seco. It officially opened to traffic on December 30, 1940, an occasion celebrated with parades and proclamations, including a bizarre fictional ceremony where the land underneath the parkway was passed from the Native Americans to the local government. Merely two months after its opening, concerns were raised over traffic congestion on the newly constructed parkway, dispelling any theories that this new road would improve and cut the commute time between Los Angeles and Pasadena.
While most had been in favor of the project while plans began to coalesce in the 1920s, some local business owners feared the new thoroughfare would allow commuters en route between Los Angeles and Pasadena to bypass their stores on Figueroa Street. It would be several decades before anyone realized how prescient these fears had been.
Today, efforts have been raised by preservationists and activists to preserve and beautify the parkway, perhaps even convert the parkway into park space. While it had been renamed the Pasadena Freeway in the 1950s, recently its original designation as "Parkway" was reinstated, and was named one of America's Scenic Byways.
Above, Linda Taira, Caltrans Corridor and Special Studies Branch Chief, describes the historic architectural value of the Arroyo Seco Parkway; Nicole Possert, Highland Park Heritage Trust preservationist, recounts the corridor's many transportation changes over time. Below, a slideshow of historical images.