Pasadena Freeway


A map from 1912 shows the plans for the Arroyo Seco Parkway. Note the Silver Lake Parkway, which was not built. The Arroyo Seco Parkway was actually proposed even earlier, as part of Charles Mulford Robinson’s "City Beautiful" project of 1906-7. (He also advocated realigning Spring Street and putting City Hall there … and he proposed planting jacarandas along the city’s streets).

Los Angeles Times file photo

This photograph of the Arroyo Seco Road, dated 1921, shows a pleasant country lane between Pasadena and downtown Los Angeles.

Photograph by the Los Angeles Times

Construction on the river channel next to the Pasadena Freeway, July 1, 1935.

Photograph by the Los Angeles Times

Construction is nearly finished, Oct. 17, 1940.

Los Angeles Times file photo

Rose Queen Sally Stanton, Gov. Culbert Olson and Highway Patrol Chief E. Raymond Cato at the ribbon cutting of the Arroyo Seco Parkway (Pasadena Freeway), Dec. 30, 1940. This is in the general location east of Fair Oaks Avenue in South Pasadena where the sinkhole opened July 16, 2008.

Photograph by the Los Angeles Times

And in a matter of months (Feb. 4, 1941) after the opening, the southbound Arroyo Seco Parkway (Pasadena Freeway) is backed up at the Figueroa Tunnels. If you ever wondered what a 67-year-old traffic jam looks like, this is your answer.

Photograph by the Los Angeles Times

Emergency turnouts are added to the Pasadena Freeway in 1950 to ease congestion and prevent accidents.

Photograph by Gil Cooper / Los Angeles Times

Workers install center dividers on the Pasadena Freeway, June 15, 1961. If you have ever seen the beating that these guardrails take from accidents, you can imagine what it was like when there was nothing but perhaps a little landscaping to keep cars from plunging into oncoming traffic. Email me

Below, the Orange Grove Avenue off-ramp on the southbound Pasadena Freeway via Google maps’ street view.


About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in Freeways, Transportation and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Pasadena Freeway

  1. Jose Rodriguez says:

    The best freeway in the U.S. It is always a thrill driving it. I can’t believe it is still beautiful after all this time.


  2. zabadu says:

    The picture of the men installing the center divides kills me. Men were tough back then. No sissy shirts, steel toed boots, helmet (well, except for the two “supervisors”, orange vest, eye or ear protection for them!!
    Notice no cones, no flags. I wonder how many were taken out by cars in those days.
    I think the shirtless guy in the front is wearing desert boots!


  3. ubrayj02 says:

    Thank you for compiling this visual story of the Arroyo Seco Parkway.
    I feel that the Parkway is a terribly over-used road, and that the area around it (save for plucky South Pasadena) is in shambles. Instead of speeding cars up, or building more freeways, it would be nice if this area were better served with street cars and roads that are convenient to cyclists travelling between Pasadena and Downtown L.A.
    I found most of these articles myself by searching through the historic L.A. Times – but you’ve got some photos that I have never seen! Thank you so much for putting this together.


  4. Dona Junta says:

    Wow thanks for the history on that part of the Fwy. Just the other day I dropped off my friend off one of the ave exits and since I usually don’t go that way I forget how slow you have to get off an exit it is kind of scary.It is not the days of cars going 40mph anymore!


  5. Richard H says:

    “And in a matter of months (Feb. 4, 1941) after the opening, the southbound Arroyo Seco Parkway (Pasadena Freeway) is backed up at the Figueroa Tunnels. If you ever wondered what a 67-year-old traffic jam looks like, this is your answer.
    Traffic “relief” was on the way as Elysian Park was partially bulldozed (if not in 1941, then in the next couple of years) to extend the Pasadena Freeway to Hill Street in Chinatown on the next construction phase on the way to the downtown four level interchange. A much more difficult engineering project than Arroyo Seco, completed with none of the nice aesthetic touches that went into the Figueroa Tunnels or the Figueroa Street Bridge or the Arroyo Seco Freeway up to that point.
    Construction of the Pasadena Freeway through Elysian Park was evidently a World War 2 national defense project and a harbinger of future freeway construction in California and the United States. Bulldoze it through, get it built fast, open it to traffic.
    Looks like the Arroyo Seco Freeway ends at San Fernando Road in that picture and just sort of turned into Figueroa Street. Four lanes merged into two without a thought given as to how that merged traffic is going to be managed.
    Riverside Drive, almost completely obstructed by the hillside, ends on the left by somehow merging into Figueroa Street just before entering the Figueroa Tunnels.
    Looks like somebody is standing at the intersection of Figueroa and Riverside Drive in the picture. Interesting scene for a spectator.


  6. j2tharome says:

    I’m a road enthusiast, and I appreciate the last photo showing how road signs looked back in the days. Anyway we can get a current photo of this location?


  7. ss says:

    Center Dividers on Pasadena Freeway, 1961:
    Though Arroyo Seco was the first real, controlled-access “Freeway” PERIOD in the US, the Gulf Freeway in Houston (first freeway built in the South and Texas, opened in 1948/inspired by the Pasadena Frwy’s inception) installed center dividers in July 1956.
    Both LA and Houston are (probably) the largest populated, freeway dependent American cities to this very day.


Leave a Reply. Note: Your IP is logged with your comment so a fake name and email address are useless.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s