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.
In 1940, the Hollywood Anti-Parkway League denounced the freeway as “un-American.”
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.
When the original, ten-mile Hollywood Freeway opened in 1954, it included the "downtown slot" and ended just north of the Cahuenga Pass. Today, the Hollywood Freeway stretches far north through the San Fernando Valley, where it's signed as CA-170, and the downtown portion of US-101 is now technically the Santa Ana Freeway.
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.
Where the Hollywood Freeway met the Arroyo Seco Parkway rose the Four-Level Interchange, a colossal structure that displaced some 4,000 people.
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.