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The History of the Arroyo Seco Parkway (Photos)

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.

A ceremony 'transferring' ownership of the Arroyo Seco Parkway
A ceremony 'transferring' ownership of the Arroyo Seco Parkway

 

 

Historic Arroyo Seco Freeway
Linda Taira explores the Arroyo Seco Parkway, the first freeway in the United States. It became the prototype for the modern freeway system.

 

Historic Arroyo Seco Freeway
Nicole Possert speaks on the history of the Arroyo Corridor as a thruway, from what is now Pasadena to Los Angeles, has always been a center for transportation innovation.

 

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Plans for the Arroyo Seco Parkway was originally reported in 1911 by the Los Angeles Times. Its original incarnation was more of a string of park grounds that would have connected Elysian Park to Highland Park. These plans were abandoned in 1915. | Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
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By 1926, new plans were in place for construction of the Arroyo Seco Parkway, this time a dedicated driveway from Los Angeles River to Devil's Gate. | Image courtesy of the USC Digital Library
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The construction of the Parkway was opposed by South Pasadena residents, believing it to be 'unsightly.' Backers emphasized the beautification aspect by pointing out the planting of trees along the route. From the Los Angeles Times, April 9, 1936. | Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
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By the end of 1937, final plans were approved and funding were set in place in place for the construction of the Parkway. | Image courtesy of the USC Digital Library
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Construction of eighteen bridges were part of the plans for the Parkway. | Image courtesy of the USC Digital Library
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Construction of the Parkway began in 1938. | Image courtesy of the USC Digital Library
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The cost of the construction of Arroyo Seco Parkway was $5.75 million. | Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
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A man observes a completed portion of the parkway in 1939, one year before its official opening. The new road was touted as cutting five or six minutes from the commute to and from Pasadena to Highland Park. | Image courtesy of the USC Digital Library
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Signs were placed along the parkway to ensure the drivers' safety. This one prevents motorists from entering the wrong way. | Image courtesy of the USC Digital Library
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The Figueroa Street Tunnels were constructed in 1931. They became a part of the Arroyo Seco Parkway after the freeway was completed in 1940. | Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
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This is a photo from an automobile accident that occured on the Arroyo Seco Parkway on June 9, 1951. | Image courtesy of the USC Digital Library
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A ceremony took place in 1940 for the dedication of the Arroyo Seco Parkway. Rose Queen Sally Stanton, California governor Culbert L. Olson, and other officials were in attendance. | Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
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In February 4, 1941, two months after the official opening of the Parkway, concerns were raised over traffic congestion. From the Los Angeles Times. | Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
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Rush hour traffic on the Parkway was still a concern in 1952, when this photo was taken. | Image courtesy of the USC Digital Library
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The Arroyo Seco Parkway was renamed the Pasadena Freeway in 1954. The freeway is also known as State Route 110. | Image courtesy of the USC Digital Library
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The original name of Arroyo Seco Parkway was restored in 2010, as part of the renovation of the 70 year-old highway. The design of some of the new safety features became a concern for some preservationists. | Photo by Flickr user waltarrrrr used under a Creative Commons license
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To this day, the Arroyo Seco Parkway is still the most direct route from Pasadena to downtown Los Angeles. | Image courtesy of the USC Digital Library