Is Caltrans running over the history of L.A.’s oldest freeway? [updated]

Motorists who drive the winding 110 Pasadena Freeway have watched as construction crews have built new barriers and demolished other sections as part of a Caltrans project to improve the safety of Los Angeles’ oldest freeway. But some of those safety improvements are ruining the historic character of what was originally called the Arroyo Seco Parkway, say preservationists, who are calling for a temporary halt to the construction project. The Highland Park Heritage Trust, in a letter published on NELA List, has asked that the California Office of Historic Preservation order a stop to the construction work and look into claims that some of the roadway’s historic features through Northeast Los Angeles have already been damaged or threatened, including plans to remove a central raised median. ” This removal of historic fabric will indeed ’cause direct physical effects to character defining features’ and will NOT maintain the Parkway’s essential character defining features,” said the letter.

The initial six-mile section of the freeway, which opened in 1940, “was envisioned as both a scenic road traversing the Arroyo and a vital traffic conduit” linking Pasadena and Los Angeles, according to linking the expanding cities of Pasadena and Los Angeles,” according to a 1999 study of the road. “Engineers and planners attempted to blend landscaping and native plants into the overall design while implementing safety features appropriate for high-speed travel.”

But the roadway’s historic significance is being diminished by the current construction project, say preservationists, who have photographed They note that the design of the new side barrier fail to blend in with other historic elements, and that the new “historic lights” Caltrans plans to install do not resemble the original fixtures.

Update: Caltrans said construction work will continue. “It’s moving forward as planned,” said agency spokeswoman Kelly Markham. The $17 million project will “improve safety for motorists, reduce maintenance costs and improve the appearance of the historic highway.” She said motorists should be aware of upcoming weekend closures of portions of the freeway. Work is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2011.

The roadway has been promoted as a historic National Scenic Byway. But, over the decades, many of the parkway’s historic features – including lights, bridges and landscaping- have been removed or remodeled without regard to the original designs. It’s also the target of constant tagging and other vandalism. Last year, a Caltrans spokesman told The Eastsider that new barriers would be installed as part of a safety improvement project to help prevent cars from plunging into the Arroyo Seco and opposing traffic lanes.

Postcard image from ArroyoSeco.org; bottom photo from Highland Park Heritage Trust


  1. What were they thinking????? The beautiful thing about driving through the Arroyo Seco is that you were totally immersed in the landscape and the river, one of the few if not the only place in Southern California where that was possible. It truly gave you a sense of place, like going back in time. At least with the ugly, old chainlink fence you could see the entire river from the freeway!!! They have robbed us of Rio LA.El Rio Girl

  2. river? that thing is a puddle at best!

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