Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

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The Day the Freeway Opened – Well, Part Of It Anyway

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

The 210 Freeway, which during its construction was called the Foothill Freeway, was not a welcome addition to our valley. It had been fought bitterly by CV residents for decades, through its planning and construction. It was built in small portions, and the first to be completed was the section that ran through CV. The glistening white concrete strip ran from Lowell Avenue to Ocean View Boulevard, just under three miles. It had cost $12 million and had been completed three months ahead of schedule. But for valley residents it was a symbol of a monumentally failed political fight. To us it was an invasion. It was the forced eviction of hundreds of families and a quarter-mile wide swath of devastation running the entire length of our valley. It was noise and pollution, added crime, and an end to our enviable status as an isolated but charming mountain community. It would forever change our community (some would say ruin it) and it was forced down our throats.

So the dedication ceremony in July 1972 was not a joyous event. About 250 people gathered on the westbound lanes in the shade of the Rosemont Avenue overpass for the ribbon cutting. Many brought their cars with them onto the new cement for the first time. Local kids came down to the freeway surface on their bikes. The newly completed Montrose Shopping Park looked for a little free advertising for their Honolulu Days Sale by providing professional hula dancers for the event.

Oddly enough (or perhaps appropriately), two of the fiercest freeway fighters were chosen as speakers for the dedication. County Supervisor Warren Dorn opened the ceremony with this: “I thought the freeway was the most ridiculous waste of public funds in the nation. But that is behind us now. You win some, you lose some.” He then introduced the dedicatory speaker, Don Carpenter, editor of the local paper The Ledger.

Carpenter increased the vitriol with these remarks: “This community fought this freeway all the way. We didn’t want it, we opposed it, we begged and bargained, but we got it anyway. At least part of it. In this fight we had the help of Supervisor Dorn and Assemblyman Frank Lanterman. Glendale didn’t help much at all.”

After this swipe at Glendale, Carpenter expressed pessimism about the freeway’s completion, telling the crowd that funding for the rest of the route could very well dry up, leaving our little section of freeway orphaned. And even if the funding remained in place, the route’s completion would be slow: “In a few minutes we’ll be able to drive to Lowell Avenue. But it will be December before we reach eastern La Cañada. It’ll be 1974 before we get to Pasadena. It’ll be 1978 or after before we can get to downtown Glendale. Who knows when we’ll get to South Pasadena? And we may never get to Long Beach”

Prophetic words! But Carpenter wasn’t completely negative. After blasting the freeway’s concept, he praised the engineers for the good job they had done. He retired from the podium, and the ceremony was handed over to the hula dancers. Then, grudgingly, the freeway fighters cut the ribbon, while in the background three young protesters held up signs that read, “Boo!” and “Hiss!” The California Highway Patrol led the caravan of cars down the length of the virgin freeway, exiting at Lowell. The barricades at Ocean View, La Crescenta, Pennsylvania and Lowell avenues were removed, and the freeway was officially open.

Throughout the rest of the day the freeway got fairly busy, as many CV residents drove back and forth on the new roadway just for the novelty. By evening the new freeway had experienced its first traffic jam, as hundreds of cars tried to exit the Ocean View off-ramp. Throughout the rest of the ’70s, the 210 Freeway continued to open in portions, along with the 2 Freeway to Glendale. It did change the valley, but in more benign ways than the freeway fighters had suggested.

Today, for better or worse, it’s just another part of our valley.

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