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′.
- Date Stamps
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.
Built in 1928, the Victoria Bridge crosses the Tequesquite Arroyo in style. This bridge was built to carry streetcars on Victoria Avenue across the arroyo as well as auto and horse carriage traffic. It is a rare example in Southern California of an arch bridge of this magnitude crossing a generally dry location. The deck and railing were restored in the early 2000’s to their original 1920’s appearance.
Victoria Avenue in the Riverside area itself is a rather beautiful roadway to travel. It was constructed in the early 1900’s as such a roadway and retains most of the original features today, south of this bridge. Quite a few miles of the roadway are comprised of a two-lane divided roadway surrounded by orange groves. These orange groves comprise some of the last remaining groves in Southern California. It is significant as the Riverside area was home to the original orange groves that were planted in the late 1800’s in Southern California.
The last large Pacific Electric railroad grade separation, located in the El Sereno area of Los Angeles, is scheduled for removal in the near future. Last week, I took the opportunity to take photos of this structure while I still could.
Located at the flag on the map.
The structure is located along the former PE Northern District’s main line. The rail line here had four tracks. Outer tracks for local trains, inner tracks for express trains. Trains passed through here bound for downtown Los Angeles, Pasadena, Monrovia, and Alhambra. It was built in 1936 as an upgrade to alleviate traffic congestion along busy Mission St. Passenger platforms were constructed at both ends of the structure, both of which exist today.
After the tracks were removed in the 1960’s, the bridge was rehabilitated for highway use. The fill at both ends was partially removed and the bridge deck was paved. The former catenary poles remain as light posts.
Slowly, the remnants of the Pacific Electric in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area are going away. While it is a loss of history, Los Angeles is working toward a future with more rail lines. It won’t ever be the “PE”, but it will go a long way toward a better future.
On Tuesday, May 13, 2014, I took the opportunity to ride up to Burbank and get some videos of the North Burbank UP with my GoPro camera. Despite the extreme heat, I managed to at least get some good video. These videos show the North Burbank Underpass and ancillary structures from all directions. They were taken to show what they were like before the closure and removal.
Northbound along San Fernando Blvd
Southbound along San Fernando Blvd
Southbound from San Fernando Blvd to Victory Place (Future San Fernando Blvd)
Northbound Victory Place to San Fernando Blvd
Southbound from I-5 at Buena Vista St to San Fernando Blvd
After serving the traveling public faithfully since 1941, the North Burbank Underpass on San Fernando Blvd in Burbank will close permanently on May 20, 2014. It is one of the more significant structures on old US 99 in the San Fernando Valley. Somewhat ironically, the structure will be replaced with a new interchange at Empire Ave. San Fernando Blvd will be rerouted back to its pre-1941 alignment, this time without a grade crossing. So, get out there and take your pictures while you can. Do the same for any other sections of old highway. You never really know how long they will last.
For more information:
Even in heavily built up Orange County, there can still be places where old highways can be seen. One of the best examples is located in Brea Canyon, where the Orange Freeway winds its way through open and undeveloped lands between Orange and Los Angeles Counties. Before the freeway, State 57 followed Brea Canyon Road. This two-lane roadway has changed little through here and has a few interesting features.
Northbound video from Lambert Road to Diamond Bar: