Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler

The History of Foothill Boulevard, Part 2

Mike Lawler is the former  president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at
Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

Continuing with our history of Foothill Boulevard, we pick up again at the turn of the 20th century. 1893 had seen the completion of a bridge across the Arroyo between Pasadena and La Cañada. (The footings of this bridge are still visible just inside Devil’s Gate Dam.) This allowed regular stage coach service from well-established Pasadena, over the wooden bridge, along the dusty, rutted Michigan Avenue (today’s Foothill Boulevard), to its turnaround spot at the general store and post office on the southeast corner of Michigan and Los Angeles (today Foothill and La Crescenta). The six-passenger open carriage also transported mail and light freight.

In 1912, with improvements to the bridge across the Arroyo, the state began to study the idea of taking over maintenance of Michigan Avenue. In 1915, state road crews were sent to widen, straighten and ultimately pave Michigan. Just after Christmas in 1915, the L.A. Times reported that an overturned kerosene lamp in the tent camp of the state highway construction crew started a fire that burned from Michigan Avenue to Honolulu Avenue, but that no houses were destroyed. In 1930 Michigan Avenue’s name was changed to Foothill Boulevard to conform and connect to the other Foothill boulevards that ran along the base (or “foothills”) of the San Gabriel Mountains. By 1936, Foothill was designated State Highway 118, extending from Route 66 in Pasadena to Oxnard.

The New Year’s Day Flood of ’34 saw Foothill covered with several feet of mud and rocks, which took days to remove, mostly by hand shovel work. The building of several flood control channels that ran beneath Foothill necessitated the building of short bridges over each channel. Despite this work, Foothill was closed again by a debris flow in the big rain of 1938.

Gas rationing of WWII curtailed most traffic on Foothill, and the highway became a military convoy route to bypass downtown Los Angeles. Foothill was sometimes closed to civilian traffic as tanks rolled through on their way to Patton’s training grounds in the Mojave Desert. A military refueling depot was set up at a wide place in the road in La Cañada, near today’s Memorial Park, and an anti-aircraft gun on Reynolds Hill (between Briggs and Ocean View) protected the roadway.

The post-war population boom in Crescenta-Cañada created traffic congestion on Foothill, and in the ’50s the roadway was widened from two lanes to four lanes. Nonetheless, traffic continued to build and it became obvious to state planners that an east-west freeway across the valley was necessary. For a decade the “Foothill Freeway” concept and its proposed route was argued, with the vast majority of foothill residents opposed to a freeway. Despite overwhelming opposition locally, the deciding “yes” vote was cast in 1968. The route of the freeway crossed Foothill twice, once over (at St. Francis High), and once under (at Memorial Park). As the new 210 Freeway opened in stages in the early ’70s, Foothill Boulevard was relieved of some of its traffic.

Local teens sought to enliven that traffic in 1975 with a “Foothill Cruise Night.” For three successive Monday nights in June of that year, kids fought police for the right to cruise Foothill. Despite some pitched battles, they “fought the law and the law won.”

The boulevard has continued to evolve. La Cañada chose to slow traffic down and beautify Foothill with the addition of landscaped center islands, whereas the CV side has chosen to keep its wide, bare highway configuration, even going so far as to reject a significant state grant for center medians in ’95. In the unincorporated CV portion of the boulevard, the new CV Town Council of the ’90s made significant gains in aesthetics when it coordinated undergrounding of utilities and a ban on any new billboards. Recently that same town council spearheaded design standards for new businesses, again for aesthetic purposes.

Foothill Boulevard, previously Michigan Avenue, defines our valley on its seven-mile journey. From Tujunga to Hahamongna, it passes through and connects four civic entities, and marks out 135 years of our history. It’s our center – our “Main Street.”