Tale of One City - A Historic Look at La Cañada Flintridge

You Probably Drive on it Everyday

The biggest catastrophe ever to hit La Cañada Valley in its 200-year history came in 1972 - there stood a massive eight-lane, concrete, vehicular swath right down the middle of La Cañada.

Flintridge, farther south, had escaped the disaster - but not the noise that the 210 Foothill Freeway created.

There has always been a feeling of a geographical division in the La Cañada Flintridge community, brought on by some of those living in the ever-affluent Flintridge area.

When the California Highway Commission made its fateful decision to shove the Blue or "C" Route down La Cañada's throat in 1964, there were some angry La Cañadans publicly saying that certain Flintridge leaders "only wanted to keep the freeway out of their front yard."

With the incorporation of the two areas into one, more understanding minds now prevail.

Back in those hectic freeway decision-making, planning and construction days, there appeared a multitude of LCF concerns and unhappy moments as the locals, having lost a bitterly fought battle with the state, saw the concrete behemoth take form; and there was no way to stop it.

The State Division of Highways had actually come up with four different freeway routes through the community. Naturally, La Cañadans and Flintridgians wanted the least-impacted plan. It was the "perfect" southern "D-E" Route, which bypassed Fintridge southerly as it travelled through the San Rafael Hills westerly from Linda Vista, while skirting the hilltop Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy and passing within Glendale boundaries.

Early on, heavy opposition had eliminated a proposed route going through the hills behind Descanso Gardens.

Even though it was an unwanted freeway, La Cañadans could always say that it came with a major tunnel, 650-feet long, under Foothill Boulevard at Verdugo Boulevard, a rare freeway structure.

One of the largest in California, the tunnel required an incredible amount of steel, enough to total 13,000 miles in length! And the steel and concrete being used totalled more than 50,000 tons, or heavier than a Iowa-class battleship.

A strike by heavy equipment operators in 1969 delayed tunnel construction for 40 days.

As only La Cañada Flintridge would do, there was a unique community freeway party in the long tunnel to "preview" the freeway's opening in December 1972. Hosting it was the Assistance League of Flintridge. It was the first (and probably the last) such freeway party in Caltrans history.

Local mothers threatened to march in protest in 1969 when the county pulled off the second crossing guard at the dangerous freeway detour hub location at Foohill Boulevard and Cornishon Avenue.

The march wasn't needed, as local County Supervisor Warren Dorn persuaded his colleagues to reinstate the second guard, and all was well.

In the community's disruptive state, the Division of Highways was accommodating to the citizens and especially those in the 509 homes that were in the freeway path.

? The cost and land-use data were made available to the public in ample time before the state hearing several months later.

? Property could be sold up to the time of the state purchase.

? A reasonable time of 60-90 days was given for the property owner to relocate after the purchase by the state.

? A very small percentage, only two percent, represented properties being contested.

Other project facts:

? A most unusual structure spanning the freeway in the vicinity of Indiana Avenue was a concrete box with the appearance of a regular traffic bridge, but smaller. The state called it a suspended storm drain handling the run-off from Winery Canyon.

? The $90 million freeway project entailed the relocating of several million yards of dirt after excavation. Its final destination was the Fern Lane area in Glendale's Verdugo Woodlands.

? Eight La Cañada streets affected by the freeway were turned into cul-de-sacs.

? Freeway builders were given 520 working days to complete the job, which they did. After the deadline, the contractor would have been charged $1,375 per day until finished.

? Lost to the freeway were the original modern-day La Cañada Elementary School and public library in the vicinity of Foothill and La Cañada boulevards.

Far be it for La Cañadans not to organize in face of the unwanted freeway intrusion. Formed to carry the unsuccessful fight to the state was the La Cañada Freeway Action Committee, with Ed Davis as its elected chairman.

Don Mazen is former associate editor of the La Cañada Valley Sun.

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