A free public event to honor the aptly nicknamed “Freeway Fighters,” will be presented in the South Pasadena Public Library Community Room at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 7. The event will feature the screening of about ten “digital stories” made by local residents. In them they tell their personal stories about their vital involvement in the 70-year resistance movement to protect South Pasadena from the 4.5 mile Interstate 710 Freeway interchange that threatened to carve through its midsection. Because of the Freeway Fighters’ dedication and tenacity, still no gargantuan freeway runs through it.
The Freeway Fighters, once called Citizens United to Save South Pasadena (CUSP), are a multi-generational band of South Pasadena residents (some now gone) who have waged their tireless “David vs. Goliath” efforts to keep the 710 out, no matter if it’s above ground or in a tunnel.
They argued that the 710 extension, which would link Interstate 10 and Interstate 210, would carry more than 100,000 vehicles a day –many of them trucks—and destroy much of one of the most picturesque enclaves in LA County, while wiping out 1,500 homes, 10 historical properties, and 7,000 trees. They also countered that the overall cost could add up to billions of dollars and drastically reduce the city’s quality of life and air.
A partial list of prominent early “Freeway Fighters” includes John J. McCrory, Henry Dreyfuss, Thelma Clark, Ted Shaw, Bob and Bea Siev, Dorothy Cohen, Elizabeth Madley, Harry & Clarice Knapp, Amedee O. “Dick” Richards, Waynna Kato, Jess Reynolds, Joanne Nuckols, Sam Knowles, Anita and Diana Stoney, David Margrave, Jane Matyas, Bill & Mary Lee Harker, Jannie Kwok, Mary Ann Parada and “Fearless Leader” Alvalee Arnold. There are many, many others deserving credit for the still-continuing advocacy work during the duration of the not-yet-ended dispute.
The City of South Pasadena is situated in the middle of several major transportation corridors between the major metropolises of Pasadena and Los Angeles. Known as the “City of Trees” and for its shining legacy of abundant landmarks, South Pasadena, is recognized for its preservationist achievements like few other cities in the nation. Its numerous fabulous commercial buildings and well-appointed residences are within close walking distance of each other as the entire city is less than 3 ½ square miles. Steadfastly protecting its beautiful neighborhoods and ‘small town’ charms against the threats to which so many other areas have succumbed, South Pasadena continues to retain its unique identity. One can’t walk more than a block or two in any direction without seeing eye-catching architecture.
South Pasadena’s distinctive character has been protected by one generation to the next, and passed down like a one-of-a-kind cultural heirloom. The historic environment of the attractive town is a testament to the preservationist efforts of the Freeway Fighters in protecting both its architectural sanctity and natural beauty. “South Pas,” as it’s called by locals, has been affectionately dubbed “Mayberry with Yoga” and “An Island in the Sea of Chaos.” In the last half century it has been named five times on the National Historic Register’s Top-10 list of “Most Endangered Places.” The city’s resistance to outside forces attempting to destroy much of its rich heritage has made the small municipality a giant in the world of grassroots historic-preservation.
The Library event will feature opening remarks by Mayor Marina Khubesrian, MD and Councilmember Richard D. Schneider, MD, who both have played important roles in the movement. It will also feature songs written and performed by singer/songwriter Brad Colerick, whose latest album “Nine-Ten-Thirty” is named after the city’s zip code, and a relevant poem read by South Pasadena Poet Laureate Ron Koertge. Author and Journalist Chip Jacobs, who has written about the Freeway Fight for the Los Angeles Times and the Pasadena Weekly will offer a brief overview of the longstanding struggle, as will author and Journalist Frank Girardot, who previously served as Editor of the Pasadena Star-News.
The Library event’s digital storytellers participated in a 2-day ‘California Listens’ Digital Storytelling Workshop last summer. The workshop, made possible by a grant from the California State Library, was attended by Freeway Fighters who developed their uniquely personal 2 to 4 minute productions that utilize video, music, narration, and photos. The videos they created will also become part of a statewide archive of stories about various aspects of life in the Golden State. They will also be made available later via Library’s homepage on the City of South Pasadena website.
The digital storytellers to be presented at the Library event are long-time residents, community activists, writers, historians, commission members, and other civic leaders. The “Freeway Fight,” as it has come to be known, has been widely covered through the decades, not only in the California news media, but in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal as well. Other features of the Library event are being finalized and will be announced soon.
The event for all ages is presented by the City of South Pasadena/South Pasadena Public Library, the Friends of the South Pasadena Public Library, and the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation. Special thanks to Rick Thomas, 210eastsound, Henk Friezer, The Quarterly, California Listens, Ron Koertge, The California State Library, The StoryCenter, Joe Lambert, John McDonald, Brad Colerick, Chip Jacobs, Occidental College, Frank Girardot, Joanne Nuckols, Clarice & Harry Knapp, Sam Burgess, Glen Duncan, Mark Gallatin, Dr. Bill Sherman, and all Freeway Fighters past and present.
This article was written and produced by Steve Fjeldsted, the Director of the South Pasadena Public Library
The Community Room is located at 1115 El Centro Street and no tickets or reservations are necessary. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and seating is limited.