In the Belltown area of Riverside, CA, I found a rather interesting concrete roadway on 24th St. It appears to be a part of a former alignment of either Rubidoux Blvd, Market Street, or combination of the two. It dates to August 1931 and is in very good shape. What I found most interesting was the curve at Avalon St, which seemed to suggest its former importance as a Riverside to Colton roadway.
Why this roadway was built and when it was bypassed may remain a mystery for some time, however, it does show that you can still find old treasures like this in Southern California.
This weekend, I had the opportunity to survey the damage from the recent storms in the Tejon Pass / Grapevine area. I took my motorcycle, as I expected to need extra clearance on some of the roadways I was going to take. The results of the survey were better than expected, mostly.
While I was only able to inspect the Ridge Route from State 138 south to the Tumble Inn, I was pleased to see how little damage was done to the roadway. As it has also been a while since I have been able to travel this section, I had to go by what I had heard and knew of the pre-existing damage. The bulk of the roadway was seemingly untouched by the recent storms. Only two sections, one with an existing problem, were a problem. One of those sections in particular, just south of Liebre Summit, is nearly impassable by a standard clearance automobile.
Mudslides, due to a locally heavy rainfall, closed Interstate 5 through this canyon for some time. Mudslide damage is still very apparent from near Ft Tejon north to near the lower escape ramp. Most of the slides affected the northbound lanes. These slides buried a significant section of former US 99 paving, especially between PM 5.5 and 6.0. While a more detailed inspection will be done later, it appeared that most of the exposed Ridge Route concrete along the northbound side was intact, with the later US 99 concrete being buried. The southbound lanes were also hit, though most of the old highway sections were still intact and relatively untouched.
Overall, the damage from these storms was very localized. As we approach a possibly strong El Nino winter, it is my hope that this storm was not a preview of things to come. As this winter progresses, this site will try to document the changes to our historic roadways throughout Southern California.
Sometimes when a road gets realigned, a portion of the old roadway remains as an access road. This was the case when a small section of Rialto Ave (Arrow Highway/Route) was realigned in 1961 between Rancho Ave and Mt Vernon Ave. This realignment left behind a short span from the 1940’s. The bridge doesn’t have a date stamp nor is it still in the county bridge logs, so an exact date is tougher to find. Still, this bridge has a fine example of bridge rail from that era and is a good find.
US 99, known as “The Old Road” in the Santa Clarita area, has had a varied past. It was first built through this area in 1930 as a three-lane highway. This roadway, known then as the Newhall Alternate, would be the first of many versions of the road through this pass.
In 1949, the roadway was temporarily widened to four lanes by restriping and adding some paving to the shoulder. This was done as the real work to upgrade the highway wouldn’t commence for a couple of years. Evidence of this widening can still be seen today.
In 1951, US 99 was realigned and finally upgraded to an expressway, though this would not last long. Just south of this point, the highway was realigned again to accomodate a new freeway from the Tunnel Station Junction (US 6 and Foothill Blvd) to Sepulveda Junction (State Route 7). This freeway still exists today in part and serves as the “Truck Route” through the pass.
Starting in 1967 and ending in 1975, the pass was yet again the site of major construction. This time, little of the old highway would be utilized as the new route of Interstate 5 bypassed much of the existing route. Where it didn’t bypass the alignment, it was torn up and completely replaced with the current roadway.
US 99 would, however, serve as the main route one last time following the January 17, 1994 Reseda / Northridge earthquake. Portions of I-5 collapsed during the earthquake, resulting in a need for a quick replacement. The resulting detours created an alignment very similar to the pre-1967 highway, giving motorists (albeit not with joy) a chance to drive old US 99 again. Upgrades were made to the highway through the pass including repaving, guardrail, and a temporary prohibition on left turns. Sadly, for highway historians, this resulted in the loss of the 1951 concrete and some curbing. It is a price to pay to help keep California’s Backbone functioning during a crisis.
This year, the Ridge Route will be celebrating its 100 year anniversary. While the roadway is still not fully open to travel and has not been since January 2005, it is still there and still coming up to its century mark. This celebration will be held in Lebec at the El Tejon School, located near the top of Grapevine Grade on Lebec Road. For more information, please contact the Ridge Route Communities Museum. The road also needs your help and pressure to reopen the roadway to the public. For more information about this issue, contact the Ridge Route website.
From the Ridge Route Communities website:
CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION – 10/3
It has been 100 years since the Ridge Route Road opened
Come celebrate with the Ridge Route Preservation Organization and the Ridge Route Communities Museum & Historical Society
from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
at El Tejon School right on the old two lane highway
across I-5 from Fort Tejon
There will be displays, antique automobiles, food, music,
Concrete is a very durable material. It has many uses, though for our purposes – roadway surfaces, curbs, and sidewalks. Local roadways, such as concrete city streets, won’t be covered in this post. Bridges will be covered in a later post. This durability allows us to get either a relative date of when a roadway was paved or built to an absolute date when we find a date stamp.
Style of Paving
As technology has evolved, so has concrete paving. The first concrete paving along State Highways was 10-12′ wide, usually not reinforced with steel. These roads were paved in one single slab of concrete. Roadways of this style were paved from around 1910 to 1915. After 1915, wider paving was used and was generally reinforced. Wider paving ran from 15′, 18′, and a “full” 20′. These are usually referred to as “Single Slab Paving”.
Sometime around 1923, longitudinal joints were added to the concrete paving. This created a “Twin Slab” roadway. This style persists today, though greatly changed. Early Twin Slab roadways had fewer expansion joints running across the lane. After around 1926, this problem was worked out by adding more frequent joints. By this time, each lane was a “standard” 10′. This standard remained until the late 1940’s when lane width started to widen to 12′.
Contractors, either by requirement or pride, usually stamp the concrete roadway, curb, or sidewalk with a date stamp. These stamps vary in location, size, and information. Date stamps marked either the beginning or end of a days paving. As such, the stamp tended to be located near an expansion joint. A general rule with date stamps is “find one, you can find the rest”. This is mostly about the location. Some stamps are in the middle of a lane, some are to the side of a lane. The orientation also varies with stamps. The information contained in these stamps also varies. Early stamps just have the contractor and the date. Later stamps added the engineering station. Without going into too much detail, at this time, about engineering stations, the “zero” point is at the beginning of a road section or project. With little exception, I have had little success in finding a date stamp on Single Slab roadways. Twin Slab roadways are much better with stamps.
Using date stamps and styles as a guide, you can easily date a roadways construction to within a few years. There are other methods you can use, but these aren’t covered here. Some will be covered in later posts. Stay tuned for more posts. Bridges, Road Signs, and more will be covered in the future. If you have any questions, please post a comment or send me a message.
When looking for old highways, there are many clues you can use to help discover where old highways ran. This will serve as a partial guide to finding those clues and figuring out the history of a roadway in California.
When you are looking for clues if a roadway you are on is an old State Highway, there are a few things to look out for. Depending on the age and location, look out for Right of Way monuments. In California, these are small concrete blocks with a C on the side of them, facing the roadway. They tend to be at the fence line along roadways, at the same distance as the utility poles, or further out. How much they stick out also varies. Some are just a few inches above the ground where others are about a foot high. Look out for these monuments at the beginning or ending of a curve usually about 50-100′ from the centerline of the roadway (or former centerline).
Other clues tend to be tougher to spot but can be very subtle in appearance. Roadways that were formerly paved with concrete instead of asphalt are usually cracked in a very specific way if the asphalt is old enough. Expansion joints in the concrete, potholes exposing the old paving, or a defined crack running near the roadway edge usually give this away. Older concrete paving was either 15′, 18′, or 20′ wide. Modern roadways are usually 24′ wide, with two 12′ lanes. Look out for this concrete at curves which appear to have been straightened.
On some roadways bypassed or abandoned after 1964, old postmile markers can be found. These markers are similar to the ones on current State Highways. On a current roadway with R mileage, look for old alignments in the area. R mileage indicates a realignment that took place after 1964, which is the point of “base mileage” for California State Highways.
Abandoned roadways are tougher to spot depending on the area climate. Drier climates tend to preserve older paving better than wetter climates. In some areas, the paving itself was removed after the roadway was bypassed. I have found a few sections of roadway relatively intact, complete with old striping, in Central and Eastern California. When the pavement has disintegrated or obliterated, you can look out for areas where there is less vegetation and distinct roadway grade. Sometimes old drainage culverts and bridges are left behind with nothing but dirt grade leading to them.
In any area, make sure to take plenty of photos if you find an old alignment. You never really know when the local jurisdiction will come along and either obliterate or repave the roadway. This is fairly common in Los Angeles County as I have found. The most recent loss has been the June 1933 three lane concrete in Gorman along old US 99 which was repaved in the past couple years. Document what you find as best as you can. Doing so will help to preserve the memory of these forgotten roadways for many years to come.