Highland Park experienced a building boom at the turn of the 20th Century that would last nearly three decades. Bringing customers on the Pacific Electric that ran along Pasadena Avenue connecting Los Angeles to Pasadena, the main thoroughfare became heavily commercial. Visitors and residents could frequent numerous banks, markets, and department stores, as well as the Sunbeam Theater to catch an afternoon matinee. Buoyed by the prestigious presence of Occidental College and Charles Lummis' Southwest Museum, Highland Park became an important cultural and economic hub in Los Angeles.
As the city to the south grew, so did its ambitions. The first freeway in the United States, the Arroyo Seco Parkway, was completed in 1940 to accomodate the growing influence of the automobile and provide a more efficient means of travel between Los Angeles and Pasadena. City planners also viewed the parkway as a mechanism for guiding future development—it was envisioned as the main artery of the area's transportation routes, directing the city's growth along these corridors and nurturing thriving developments. The business district of Highland Park was supposed to benefit from this expansion.
The Arroyo Seco Parkway, however, never delivered these promised results. Riders of the often-delayed streetcars were promised a faster, more direct mode of transport on the parkway. But instead of the population expanding into Highland Park along the parkway, other developing areas in the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys became easier to reach, luring those looking to live in the suburbs. Highland Park never caught on the population boom after World War II and was shrinking steadily by the end of the 1950s.
During the 1960s, the business community proposed a plan to revitalize the downtown business district. The plan, however, called for the removal of the historic core of Highland Park and surrounding housing in favor of a new—but generic—town center. The revitalization effort was not popular with the community, and the plan died. The commercial corridor of Highland Park would remain relatively unchanged for the years to come, until the next wave of concerned business owners would begin another campaign for revitalization.
Limits on Growth
Arthur Snyder remembers how Highland Park has always been an ideal regional commercial center for the Northeast corridor, yet is restricted to local small businesses that service the community's immediate needs.