Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Arroyo Seco Parkway

1938 Rose Queen Cheryl Walker at the groundbreaking ceremony.
Cheryl Walker presided as the Rose Queen in the 1938 Tournament of Roses and subsequent Rose Bowl that saw California defeat Alabama, 13-0. Three months later, her duties included the inauguration of one of the countries most historic infrastructure projects - the Arroyo Seco Parkway.

When the bulldozer carrying Walker pushed the first mound of dirt on March 22, 1940 it launched the construction of a six lane road between Pasadena and Los Angeles - the first freeway in the Western United States.

The increase in automobile usage in the late 20s and 1930s prompted a push to build a direct connection between the prospering city and its neighbor eight miles to the northeast. The $5.75 million freeway was built in the route of an intermittent stream that had long been one of the main transportation routes between the two cities.

The road was completed and dedicated on December 30, 1940 by Sally Stanton, that year's Rose Queen. It was in operation on New Year's Day in time for both the Tournament of Roses Parade and Rose Bowl that pitted Southern California against Tennessee (USC won 14-0).

At the time, the six "glass-smooth miles" represented a transitional phase between early parkways and modern freeways. The road's landscaped embankments, limited access, and depressed roadway made it the prototype of the Los Angeles freeway system.

Today California 110, or the Pasadena Freeway as it is also known, remains largely the same as when it was first completed but carries more than four times the traffic it was originally intended to. As a result it is now considered overly narrow and outdated (it was designed for traffic travelling at 45 mph) but $17 million initiative to upgrade the road proposal has drawn the ire of preservationists.

The freeway is in the National Record of Historic Places and one of the American Society of Civil Engineers Historic Landmarks.