Pronounced “the One-10,” California State Route 110 -- aka Arroyo Seco Parkway aka Pasadena Freeway -- is a destination.
“It’s a rite of passage to drive the 110,” I heard someone say. Adding “the” before a freeway’s name is a Southern California quirk.
The curvy eight-mile byway was inaugurated at its completion in 1940 -- although it opened to traffic in 1938, when most of it was finished. Named for the seasonal river running alongside it, the scenic tree-lined roadway has six lanes and four Art Deco tunnels.
Parkways (landscaped highways) were the precursor to the modern freeway. And depending on the source, the 110 is on record as the first freeway in the western United States, the first freeway in the country, even the first freeway in the world. One thing is certain: It became the model for America’s freeways.
It has few turnouts, no shoulders, onramps that start at a dead stop, and nailbiter hairpin exits (cars were a lot slower back in 1940). A feat for its time, its distinguished designations include National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, National Scenic Byway, and it’s on the list of the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
The 110 connected booming Los Angeles to the wealthy Arts and Crafts enclave of Pasadena that flourished along the foothills of the great San Gabriel Mountains. Homes constructed in the style of dark-wooded Craftsman bungalows were reminiscent of Swiss chalets that inspired the area’s nickname, “Little Switzerland.”
Pasadena is also home to the Rose Bowl Stadium; the Wrigley Mansion, headquarters for the Tournament of Roses and former home of chewing gum mogul William Wrigley Jr.; the Gamble House (as in Proctor & Gamble); the Art Center College of Design; the Norton Simon Museum; Pasadena Museum of California Art; Jet Propulsion Laboratory; and Caltech. And Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena’s long main thoroughfare and the western terminus of Route 66, is the site of the annual New Year’s Day Rose Parade.
By 1954 – as Los Angeles began expanding -- the California Highway Commission changed the name of Arroyo Seco Parkway to the Pasadena Freeway. But by 2010 when the California Department of Transportation recognized the 110’s contributions to the history of Southern California, the name change was reversed.
So, when I learned that Arroyo Fest 2023 would be closing most of the Arroyo Seco Parkway to automobile traffic for four hours and opening it to walkers, runners, cyclists, skateboarders, roller skaters, baby strollers, wheelchair users, and other similarly wheeled devices, I dropped everything to join thousands to be a part of history.
The first and last time Arroyo Fest took place was in 2003 with the goal to bring area residents together and celebrate the diverse communities of the Arroyo Seco -- from Avenue 26 to its northern end where the freeway transitions to a surface street fittingly named Arroyo Parkway this became the gateway to the cultural gems of northeastern Los Angeles County – such as the Gamble House, considered the finest example of Craftsman architecture on the planet. Also here are the world-famous Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, once home to railroad magnate Henry Huntington and his art collector wife Arabella.
I met cyclist Jim Hasenauer. Decked out in a tuxedo jersey he had just finished his early morning ride on the 110. I complimented his fashion sense.
“I wear it for special occasions,” he replied. A 44-year cycling veteran, he has participated in countless cycling events over the decades. “But never on a freeway.”
A free event, participants could enter at any freeway entrance or off-ramp. Stepping foot onto the 110, I grinned from ear to ear and shouted, “I’m walking on the freeway!”
From the center divider I watched hordes of cyclists roll down the northbound lanes. On my side, walkers, joggers, parents pushing strollers, single folks, men in business suits, a young couple holding hands, even someone in high heels -- meandered leisurely up and down the southbound lanes. The collective sense of awe and delight was palpable.
And while driving the 110, it’s worth noting offramps that lead to under-the-radar attractions.
Like Heritage Square Museum (Avenue 43 exit) for example, a “neighborhood” of meticulously preserved Victorian-era structures from around Los Angeles. The family-friendly venue welcomes all to a visual tour of Southern California’s first 100 years.
A few exits north, the Orange Grove Avenue off-ramp leads to the vibrant town of South Pasadena founded in 1888 and today popular for its award-winning farmers market. Metro Rail passengers can disembark at the South Pasadena Station and find the market just steps away. Locals and regulars from afar come for pristine organic produce, fresh cheeses, breads, seafood, tantalizing prepared meals and many special offerings – surrounded by a parklike setting with live music. It takes place every Thursday afternoon, rain or shine, except for Thanksgiving. And nearby Mission Street lined with boutique shops, outstanding restaurants, and coffee shops, stays open late on Thursdays.
West of the farmers market, a drive-up tree-lined Grand Avenue will treat you to a tour of beautiful Craftsman homes and estates until it ends below Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. At the top of Grand, look for the historic peach-colored six-story Spanish Colonial Revival building constructed in 1920 as the Vista del Arroyo Hotel and Bungalows. It served as a World War II military hospital and is today home to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Eventually the 110 extended south, becoming the commercial corridor between L.A. and the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and ultimately part of the interstate freeway system.
But back to the birthplace of the country’s first freeway -- the meandering scenic drive on Arroyo Seco Parkway that became a national treasure.
IF YOU GO:
https://www.626goldenstreets.com/ (Arroyo Fest)