Hollywood Versus the Freeway

In some ways, the Hollywood Freeway – the 101 – was a historical and geographical inevitability. When it opened in 1954, it traced an ancient highway, trod by Indian traders, Mexican soldiers, and American horses, that linked Los Angeles to points north through a wind gap in the Santa Monica Mountains, the Cahuenga Pass. It followed the general path of interurban trolley lines and early automotive roads. It connected a booming population center, the San Fernando Valley, with a declining but still powerful downtown business district. No wonder the city’s earliest freeway master plans included a parkway along this natural transportation corridor.

Newly completed bridge
A bridge over Silver Lake Blvd awaits connection to the rest of the Hollywood Freeway in 1948. Photo courtesy of the Herald-Examiner Collection – Los Angeles Public Library.

Where earlier roads once crossed open countryside, however, early planning maps showed the Hollywood Parkway (to use its original name) slicing through a densely populated area. Residents were understandably unsettled. As early as 1940, the Hollywood Anti-Parkway League denounced the Cahuenga Pass Parkway, then under construction, as “un-American.” Later, as planners moved to extend the parkway toward downtown, opposition became even louder. Movie stars worried about their Whitley Heights homes. Merchants fretted about a sweeping concrete viaduct over Franklin Avenue. The Hollywood Bowl Association feared noise pollution. Some critics suggested that the city build a rapid transit line instead. Most supported the general idea of a freeway but disagreed with its routing.

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Ultimately, the state relented to local opposition and struck compromises with the mostly white, middle-class, and politically powerful Hollywood community. Construction claimed several historic structures, including Charlie Chaplin's and Rudolph Valentino’s former homes in Whitley Heights, but the state planted extensive landscaping near the Hollywood Bowl to dampen traffic noise, and highway engineers bent the freeway around local landmarks like the First Presbyterian Church, the Hollywood Tower apartments, and KTTV’s newly constructed television studio.

The more ethnically diverse and working-class communities southeast of Hollywood – as in Boyle Heights and East Lost Angeles, where seven superhighways were built over local objections – were not as lucky. There, the freeway took a more direct route. It bisected Echo Park, severing the recreational lake from its adjacent playgrounds. It carved a canyon through downtown, obliterating historic Fort Moore Hill and its 1873 high school building. And where it met the Arroyo Seco Parkway rose the Four-Level Interchange, a colossal structure that displaced some 4,000 people.

Construction lasted seven years (1947-54) and cost $55 million. Nearly half went toward right-of-way acquisition, which involved the relocation of 1,728 buildings and the demolition of another 90. When the final link of the ten-mile freeway opened in 1954, an ancient transportation corridor had entered modern times, but it had also opened urban wounds that are only now beginning to heal.

An early master plan of Los Angeles freeways from a 1943 report, Freeways for the Region, courtesy of the Metro Transportation Library and Archive
The Hollywood Parkway figures prominently in this 1939 master plan, reprinted in the 1943 report "Freeways for the Region." Courtesy of the Metro Transportation Library and Archive.
Cahuenga Freeway, Gateway to Hollywood, California
The Cahuenga Pass Freeway opened in 1940 as one of L.A.'s first freeways. Seven years later, construction began on the Hollywood Freeway, which extended this short stub to downtown Los Angeles. 1947 postcard courtesy of the Werner von Boltenstern Postcard Collection, Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University.
Aerial view of Hollywood Freeway
A 1951 aerial view of the Hollywood Freeway under construction, courtesy of the Herald-Examiner Collection – Los Angeles Public Library.
Looking west towards Hollywood, aerial
A 1950 aerial view of construction to Hollywood's southwest. Courtesy of the Herald-Examiner Collection – Los Angeles Public Library.
Motorcade travels spanking new freeway
A motorcade travels over a newly opened segment of the freeway in 1950. Photo courtesy of the Herald-Examiner Collection – Los Angeles Public Library.
End of freeway at Silver Lake Boulevard
The freeway opened in several stages. This 1950 photo, courtesy of the Herald-Examiner Collection, shows a temporary dead-end at Silver Lake Blvd.
Old and new, Hollywood Freeway
This 1955 graphic, courtesy of the Herald-Examiner Collection – Los Angeles Public Library, shows how the Hollywood Freeway completely reshaped the local landscape. The top photo shows a 1949 public auction of a condemned structure. The bottom photo shows the same scene six years later.
Notice of meeting on housing situation
Construction of the Hollywood Freeway displaced thousands of people, sparking organized opposition. 1945 photo courtesy of the Herald-Examiner Collection – Los Angeles Public Library.
House being moved from Colton and N. Boylston Sts. for construction of Hollywood Freeway, Calif., 1948
Most of the structures in the freeway's path were moved to new locations – only 90 were demolished. 1948 photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, UCLA Library Special Collections.
View, two blocks north of Hollywood and Vine
1952 view of freeway construction two blocks north of Hollywood and Vine, courtesy of the Herald-Examiner Collection – Los Angeles Public Library.
Hollywood Freeway at Vermont
1954 view of the Hollywood Freeway at Vermont Ave., shortly after the full ten-mile stretch opened. Courtesy of the Metro Transportation Library and Archive.
Aerial view of the Hollywood Freeway in Hollywood
Aerial view of the Hollywood Freeway, taken a few short years after its completion in 1954. Courtesy of the USC Libraries – Dick Whittington Photography Collection.

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