In La Cañada Flintridge, a trip down memory lanes

Forty years ago, more than 1,000 La Cañada Flintridge residents set foot on the Foothill (210) Freeway for the first and likely only time, toasting the completion of the highway.

They danced, dined and drank on the roadway during the fundraiser hosted by the Assistance League of Flintridge. Decades later, those party-goers remember the freeway’s arrival as a major change to life in La Cañada – but mostly as a good one.

To build the stretch of freeway connecting the 210 at Berkshire Avenue on the east with the Glendale (2) Freeway and the 210 heading toward the San Fernando Valley on the west, Caltrans demolished 551 homes and the site of La Cañada Elementary School.

Bob Covey, who was 45 at the time the freeway was completed, remembers the route of the freeway as the subject of a heated political battle.

“Our big effort had been to keep it down south of Foothill [Boulevard], but of course that got gruesome,” he said. “It would have cut through some highly political homes.”

Those who attended the party, held near the Foothill Boulevard underpass, say it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“A lot of the people I went to school with were at the party,” said Bill Topping, who grew up in La Cañada and now lives in Prescott, Ariz. “It was a fun event, it really was, to be able to go down on a freeway and party. I think it’s a unique experience in life.”

Topping said that although the freeway may have changed the city, he thinks its impact probably was positive.

“I bet shop owners enjoyed it,” he said. “I know people that lived in town that were worried about traffic, but it probably eliminated some of the through traffic [to Pasadena]… My feeling is, you’re going to have change anyway.”

The Yeghiaian family has run Berge’s sandwich shop on Foothill since around June of 1972, four years before the city was incorporated and a few months before the freeway opened.

“It didn’t hurt us, didn’t help us,” said John Yeghiaian. “It’s lightened up the load on the roads, but it didn’t get us any new customers.”

No matter where locals stand on the impact of the freeway, they all agree it has been aggravating to wait for the long-promised sound walls to block out the noise of trucks heading through La Cañada.

“I had dual-pane windows installed, so I don’t hear the freeway,” said Sharlyn French, who lives near the Foothill Boulevard exit off the 210. “But I used to have to stop talking on the phone if a truck drove by while I had the window open.”

Construction on two sound walls in the Meadow Grove neighborhood, near the eastern edge of the city, is expected to begin in June of next year. But the rest of the city may have to wait until at least 2020 for the walls, as the city is still seeking funds to pay for them.

Despite the noise, French said the 210 provides an invaluable connection the rest of Los Angeles.

“My son didn’t feel like he grew up in a small town, even though he did, because he and his friends could go all over Southern California on the freeway,” she said.

French said she attended the party on the freeway and that the mood was one of elation that construction finally was complete.

Covey, who missed the party but took part in the fight over the route, said he has made good use of the freeway over the years.

“You can’t stop progress,” he said. “I think it’s a good thing.”

The 40th anniversary comes at a time when nobody is celebrating freeways and city leaders are battling a proposal for another nearby freeway, an extension of the Long Beach (710) Freeway from Alhambra to the 210 in Pasadena. Of course, a lot has changed in 40 years.

Covey said back then the 210 “was like a private freeway. There wasn’t much traffic 40 years ago.”

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