LOCAL L.A. Now

That interchange you just drove was designed by a woman

When’s the last time you thought about the freeway? Not about which freeway to take or traffic flow -- or lack thereof -- but about the actual freeway. 

Well, here's a little something to ponder as you race down the 10 or the 405 anytime this Women’s History Month: 

The three-level San Diego-Santa Monica freeway interchange -- where the 405 meets the 10 -- was the first interchange in California designed by a female engineer. 

That engineer was Marilyn Jorgenson Reece. In fact, she was the first woman in California to be registered as a civil engineer. 

Marilyn's accomplishments inspired not just engineers, but countless women who wanted to go into engineering and other professions yet were hesitant to redraw the boundaries.

Debra Bowen, former California Secretary of State

Marilyn Reece had an impact on a number of the roadways we travel today.
Marilyn Reece had an impact on a number of the roadways we travel today. (California Department of Transportation)

Urban critic Reyner Banham described the 405-10 interchange in his book "Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies" in glowing terms: "The Santa Monica/San Diego intersection is a work of art, both as a pattern on the map, as a monument against the sky, and as a kinetic experience as one sweeps through it."

That was by design. In 1995, Reece told the Los Angeles Times that she had designed the interchange with aesthetics in mind, putting her “heart and soul into it."  

“It is very airy. It isn’t a cluttered, loopy thing,” she said of the interchange, which was completed in 1964. The idea was to keep traffic moving at high speeds, and to allow drivers to go 55 mph, the roadway needed long, sweeping curves. “That was so you didn’t have to slam on the brakes, like you do on some interchanges.” 

Marilyn Reece works on the 405-10 interchange, which she designed.
Marilyn Reece works on the 405-10 interchange, which she designed. (California Department of Transportation)

What made this engineering feat even more impressive is that Reece did it while pregnant with her second child. 

Her career spanned 35 years, with numerous projects, including serving as senior engineer for the completion of the 210 Freeway through Sunland in 1975.

The city of Los Angeles honored Reece during Women's History Month in 1983 for making significant contributions to the city. In 1991, she received life membership in the American Society of Civil Engineers.
 

Four years after Reece died in 2004, the California Department of Transportation dedicated and renamed the interchange. It was dubbed the Marilyn Jorgenson Reece Memorial Interchange. 

At the ceremony, California's then-Secretary of State Debra Bowen said: "Marilyn's accomplishments inspired not just engineers, but countless women who wanted to go into engineering and other professions yet were hesitant to redraw the boundaries." Including her two daughters.

One daughter, Anne Bartolotti, works for Los Angeles County as an information technology manager. The other, Kirsten Stahl, is a senior traffic engineer, serving as a "pavement guru" for Caltrans. 

You can find out more about and contribute to our growing selection of people and places that make Los Angeles interesting at #WeAreLA. And if you can't get enough transportation coverage, follow Laura J. Nelson for all the news. 

 

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