Artbound

Artbound

Start watching
Fine Cut

Fine Cut

Start watching
SoCal Wanderer

SoCal Wanderer

Start watching
a large damn with graffiti of a woman with a hammer on it, mountains in the background

Earth Focus Presents

Start watching
Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali

Start watching
Southland Sessions

Southland Sessions

Start watching
Professor T

Professor T (Belgium)

Start watching
Emma

Emma

Start watching
Guilt

Guilt

Start watching
Line of Separation Key Art.

Line of Separation

Start watching
Us

Us

Start watching
The Latino Experience

The Latino Experience

Start watching
Key Art of "Summer of Rockets" featuring Keeley Hawes and Toby Stephens.

Summer of Rockets

Start watching
Death in Paradise Series 10

Death in Paradise

Start watching
millionaire still

KCET Must See Movies

Start watching
Independent Lens

Independent Lens

Start watching
Tending Nature
New Special Airing Nov. 14

Tending Nature

Start watching
Earth Focus

Earth Focus

Start watching
City Rising

City Rising

Start watching
Lost LA

Lost LA

Start watching
Member
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Learn about the many ways to support KCET.
Support Icon
Contact our Leadership, Advancement, Membership and Special Events teams.

From Roosevelt Highway to the 1: A Brief History of Pacific Coast Highway

Southern Californians know PCH as "the One" today, but Roosevelt Highway began as Route 60. It was later redesignated Route 3, then Route 101 Alternate. It was not until 1964 that the green shields designating PCH as California State Route 1 appeared roadside.
Support Provided By
1938 postcard of the Roosevelt Highway, north of Santa Monica. Courtesy of the Werner von Boltenstern Postcard Collection, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University.

Admired for its scenery and dreaded for its traffic -- as well as the landslides that occasionally render it impassable -- Pacific Coast Highway is perhaps Southern California's most iconic ribbon of asphalt. Even if Beach Boys-era woodies are now a rare sight, the scenes of crashing waves, surfboards, and palm trees are enough to attract tourists to the road, which connects coastal towns from Ventura to San Juan Capistrano.

Pacific Coast Highway opened in the late 1920s as part of the Roosevelt Highway, a 1,400-mile road that traced the western margin of the United States. Nationally, Americans found the first highway linking the Mexican and Canadian borders an appropriate memorial for the country's late and famously internationalist president, Theodore Roosevelt. Locally, Southern Californians celebrated the reduced travel time between the various beach towns of the region; the Roosevelt Highway represented the first direct link between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach and between Ventura and Santa Monica.

A primitive wagon road, shown here at Arch Rock, connected Santa Monica to the Rindge ranch before construction of the Roosevelt Highway. Courtesy of the Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.
The Roosevelt Highway's precursor paralleled the railroad tracks of the Southern Pacific in Santa Monica. Courtesy of the Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

PCH might not exist today if one intransigent landowner, May Rindge, had prevailed in her decades-long struggle against the county. Since at least the 1890s, a primitive road -- often submerged at high tide -- hugged the rocky coast between Santa Monica and Malibu, passing underneath a natural arch, only to reach a locked gate at the property line of Rindge's 17,000-acre ranch.

Southern Californians know PCH as "the One" today, but Roosevelt Highway began as Route 60. It was later redesignated Route 3, then Route 101 Alternate. It was not until 1964 that the green shields designating PCH as California State Route 1 appeared roadside.

As owner of the former Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit, Rindge was determined to keep her landholdings safe and secure. She and her late husband had long fought to keep homesteaders off her ranch, and in 1906 she outfoxed the politically powerful Southern Pacific, forcing the railroad to divert its Santa Barbara line around Malibu and though the San Fernando Valley.

So when in 1907 the county proposed extending the coastal road through Malibu, Rindge posted armed guards at the entrances to her ranch and challenged the county's power of eminent domain in court. A stalemate ensued for years, but the road's prospects improved in the early 1920s when it was incorporated into the newly planned Roosevelt Highway. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the county's right to appropriate the land for the highway in 1923, and the dispute finally came to an end in 1925 when a superior court judge granted the county title to the right-of-way in return for $107,289.

Delayed by the litigation, the Malibu segment of the Roosevelt Highway was the last to open. California Governor C.C. Young, flanked by Miss Mexico and Miss Canada, cut the ceremonial ribbon on June 29, 1929, and a parade of 1,500 cars sped by to navigate the road's curves.

A parade of cars on the Roosevelt Highway, perhaps on the road's opening day in 1929. Courtesy of the Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.
Circa 1930 view of the Roosevelt Highway near Pacific Palisades. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce Collection, USC Libraries.
Pacific Coast Highway passes by El Morro Beach in Crystal Cove, Orange County, 1953. Courtesy of the Orange County Archives.
Circa 1940s aerial view of Pacific Coast Highway passing through Laguna Beach. Courtesy of the Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

Passing directly through towns, the Roosevelt Highway -- renamed Pacific Coast Highway in much of Southern California in 1941 -- adequately met the region's transportation needs in 1929. But by the 1950s, regional transportation planners envisioned a new Pacific Coast Freeway that would bypass congested retail districts and parallel the superhighways further inland. Much of the 100-mile freeway would follow the original Roosevelt Highway route, but in some cases the new road would bisect coastal communities and restrict public access to beaches.

Some cities, like Laguna Beach and Costa Mesa, fought the plan. Others sought to modify it: Santa Monica officials proposed a seven-mile causeway stretching from Topanga Canyon to the Santa Monica Pier that would spare the city's business district, move its beach one mile offshore, and create an artificial yacht harbor.

Despite growing resistance from local communities, California's state highway agency began purchasing right-of-way land, including expensive beachside parcels in Malibu, in the 1960s. The proposed freeway remained on planners' maps until 1972, when it succumbed to bitter opposition among residents, civic leaders, and environmental activists. Today, only a short stub exists southeast of Oxnard.

The ocean views from Pacific Coast Highway were not always pristine. In Huntington Beach, oil wells lined the highway for miles. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Young Research Library, UCLA. Used under a Creative Commons license.
PCH in Orange County's Sunset Beach, 1966. Courtesy of the Orange County Archives.

Support Provided By
Read More
 A map of Los Angeles City, 1867.

The Convoluted Logic of L.A.'s Numbered Avenues

As Los Angeles expanded, a need to clear up confusion for citizens came when duplicate numbered streets and avenues appeared throughout the city.
A mountain range, parts of which are covered in snow.

The Lost Plan to Create a National Park in L.A.’s Backyard

In 1916, the proposed establishment of the Sierra Madre National Park laid in the hands of conservationist Stephen Mather. But an underfunded national park system and the area's lack of "nationally significant" monumental scenery meant a swift end to the plan.
A view of the iconic landmark, the Bradbury Building, showing dark, ornamental grilling and brickwork and layers of stairs.

The Savvy Mexican Businesswoman Behind the Iconic Bradbury Building

While the building’s namesake Lewis Bradbury is often referenced in historical accounts, his wife Simona is rarely mentioned alongside him even though she oversaw his business affairs after his death, including the completion of the iconic Bradbury Building.