Throwback Thursday | South Pasadena: A Transportation Corridor

PHOTO: Pasadena Museum of History | | South Pasadena bound electric car crosses the Arroyo Seco (1921)

By the 1920s, South Pasadena had become a major transportation corridor between Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley. South Pasadena had five separate rail routes crossing the city: electric car tracks on Mission Street and the full length of Fair Oaks Avenue, Southern Pacific Railroad, Sante Fe Railroad, and Salt Lake Railroad. It was acknowledged at the time by transportation experts that South Pasadena had the best commuter rail system of any city its size in the world.

Public transportation via the Pacific Electric cars shared the same primary routes with automobiles.

PHOTO: South Pasadena Public Library | | Electric car turns west form Fair Oaks Ave. to Mission Street, South Pasadena (1925)

In 1926-1931, Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles (Santa Monica) came down Fair Oaks in South Pasadena to Huntington Drive and on to 7th and Broadway. Fair Oaks Avenue and Mission Street had dozens of automobile dealerships, gasoline stations, garages, and repair facilities. The Southern California motoring public was car crazy and South Pasadena catered to the Route 66 traveler like no other city.

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PHOTO: Pasadena Museum of History | | Cycleway entrance toll booth, Green Hotel (1900)

A new more-direct route was proposed from Los Angeles to Pasadena. The highway was designed exclusively for automobile travel and would pass through South Pasadena using the same route that Horace Dobbins had grandfathered as an elevated bicycle route 40 years earlier (California Cycleway).

PHOTO: Pasadena Museum of History | | Arroyo Seco Parkway “Opening Day” at Fair Oaks Avenue, South Pasadena (1940)

The Arroyo Seco Parkway opened on December 30, 1940. The parkway had no center divider, three lanes in each direction, stop-and-go on/off ramps, and a maximum speed limit of 45 mph. It was the first non-stop highway west of the Mississippi.

Author Rick Thomas is the former museum curator and vice-chair of education for the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation. He served on the South Pasadena Natural Resources Commission, helping to maintain a strict policy protecting the city’s great old-growth trees. Using touchstone photographs from his own collection—one of the San Gabriel Valley’s largest accumulations of historical images and artifacts—as well as national, state, and local historical archives, Thomas provides a window to his city’s past and an understanding of why its preservation is so important.