This featured image covers two dates for a reason. The St. Francis Dam, a former dam in San Francisquito Canyon above Santa Clarita, California, collapsed at 11:57:30 pm on March 12, 1928. The ensuing flood caused a great deal of damage along the canyon and the Santa Clara River Valley. Over 500 lives were lost that night in, even in 2018, the second largest disaster by loss of life in California. The even had repercussions throughout the world. Following that event, dams, as well as other large projects, no longer were approved by engineers. Geologists had the final say, not engineers. Both geologists and engineers also had to be certified by their state government to work as professionals.
The head engineer on the project, William Mulholland, was a great engineer. He oversaw and helped design the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which was the largest and longest project of its time. It is still an engineering marvel today, more than 100 years later. The disaster ruined his career and during the investigation, he not only took full responsibility for the event, but also was said to have “envied the dead”. The collapse took a big toll on the “Chief” and he died a few years later.
This post is in memory of both those that died that fateful night in 1928 and to William Mulholland. A man that went from the “Savior of the City” to a pariah in just a few years.
There is a group in Bakersfield trying to get historic route signs posted on the original alignment of US 99 through the Bakersfield area. They could use your support. Check out the site below for more information.
The tour began at Devore, CA at about 8:30 am after meeting a friend, who ended up being the only person to show. After a quick briefing on what we were to see, we headed south to Verdemont, where we inspected a freeway overpass that had remained mostly intact from its original 1950’s construction. The bridge rail and approach guard rail was original and relatively untouched. From there, we headed back to Cajon Blvd and viewed the old concrete alignment at Verdemont.
After Verdemont, we headed back to Devore to see a section of intact 1916 paving, which acts partly as a driveway for an antenna site. The paving, oil macadam, is quite rare to see these days and was pretty cool to see. Despite all it has gone through, the paving was fairly smooth with only a few major potholes. The roadway damage did also offer an opportunity to more closely inspect the paving itself. The aggregate that was used was fairly large by modern standards and appeared to be granite.
North on Cajon Blvd, we passed a couple of C-monuments adjacent to the freeway. I first spotted these on a trip a few months ago following the Blue Cut fire. It was nice to see they were still there. Those monuments were also at the point where old Cajon Blvd merges with the “new” Cajon Blvd (the extension from Devore on a new alignment).
Our next stop was at Blue Cut. There, we checked out a plaque commemorating the history of the Blue Cut area. Blue Cut, as it was noted on the plaque, was the location of a toll booth on the original wagon road through here. We also inspected the foundations of the 1940’s weigh station, which was removed not long after the freeway bypassed this section. While we were at Blue Cut, we also watched three trains pass by, one of which was a “fast freight”, which was passing another train.
Moving north from Blue Cut, we stopped briefly at the Debris Cone Creek bridge, then headed toward Cajon Junction. At Cajon Junction, we followed the eastern frontage road south to the end of the road. There, we found the trail monument from 1917, which was placed alongside the roadway just after it was paved. The monument itself was moved to its present location when the freeway was built. This location was also the divergence of the original path through Cajon Pass and the later roads, which eventually became US 66. As it was getting a bit hot, we moved onto our next stop – Cajon Summit.
Between Cajon Junction and Cajon Summit, the old roadway has been greatly modified. Only portions of both directions of the former expressway are still visible. The whole section, however, has been closed since the Blue Cut fire burned the area. This same fire, unfortunately, also took what would have been our lunch stop – the Summit Inn Café. The sign still remains, but the whole business is gone. It may be rebuilt, but only time will tell. So far, the site has only been cleared.
After stopping at the summit, it was time to work our way back down the hill. Instead of taking the freeway back to Devore, we decided it best to take the old highway once again. This time, we made an additional stop at a bridge near Swarthout Canyon Road. This stop proved to be quite interesting as we found the foundations for an old structure that was alongside the 1916 roadway. We figured the old building may have been a gas station or some other roadside service building. We also saw two more trains pass by while we were there.
We headed back to Devore to finish up the tour. By then, we were quite hungry, so we decided to have a late breakfast at Tony’s Diner. The food was decent and the location was nice. It was good to be in a nice air-conditioned building as well. Overall, the tour was a lot of fun, even though it wasn’t well attended. Next time will be better and hopefully be cooler.
On August 12, 2017, I will be hosting this websites first highway tour in the Cajon Pass area. This tour will cover the roadway from Verdemont to Cajon Summit. Some portions will have to be skipped, unfortunately, due to fire-related closures. The start of the tour has changed from the initial announcement. It will now begin at Devore, in front of Tony’s Diner at 18291 Cajon Blvd, San Bernardino, CA 92407 at 8 am. Please do not park in their parking lot. There is plenty of on-street and off-street parking in the area.
After a brief introduction, we plan to leave at about 8:30 am. The tour will stop at the following locations:
Cajon Blvd (at the freeway)
Debris Cone Creek
Additional stops may be added if needed. I strongly recommend bringing water and snacks as there are few water/food stops along the route. Please RSVP if you plan to attend this tour. Again, we will be leaving the starting point no later than 8:30 am. Please RSVP no later than August 11 so that I can get a rough number of how many will attend. I look forward to seeing you out there!
In the late 1940’s, plans were being drawn for improvements to US 80 in San Diego County. The highway, as it was then, had changed little since its last upgrade between 1928 and 1932. While much of the highway was on a better alignment than before, the section between Alpine and Descanso still needed more work done. This part of the roadway still had sharp curves and steep grades. The combination of these conditions, including increasing traffic, made it rather treacherous at times.
In 1950, the first phase of improvements were made to this segment of highway. Beginning near the present-day West Willows interchange, a new alignment was constructed. This new alignment had a shallower grade than the original alignment. It was also a lot straighter. It followed eastbound I-8 until near East Willows. At the present-day East Willows interchange, the alignments met again. From there, the old alignment was straightened quite a bit. Portions of this new alignment are still in use as the westbound lanes of I-8.
At the large curve, known as “Dead Man’s Curve”, the 1950 improvements ended. It was at that curve, however, that a tunnel was planned to be constructed. The tunnel was a part of an additional phase of improvements that were never constructed. It would have been about 800 feet long and two lanes wide. I have not found any drawings of what the tunnel may have looked like. Most likely, however, it would have had a stone-faced portal, similar to other tunnels constructed around that time. Grading for the tunnel was partially done on the west side, though nothing was done on the east end.
East of the tunnel, the alignment would have taken a different course. Instead of following the original alignment, a new one would be built, similar to the I-8 alignment, but rejoining US 80 near Los Terrinitos. There, a new bridge was constructed over the Sweetwater River bridge, bypassing the original 1917 bridge to the south. East of Descanso, another realignment was planned, though no provisions for this ever got past the planning stage. This bridge, along with the improvements to the west, were planned to be a part of an eventual US 80 expressway or freeway alignment. All of these plans were put on hold as other projects in the region.
When plans shifted from upgrading US 80 to the construction of a brand new freeway, the tunnel plan was scrapped. Instead of a tunnel, a deep cut would be dug into the mountain, allowing for a more even grade across the area. The alignment chosen also reduced the number of river crossings from three to one. The freeway alignment also bypassed the section of US 80 through Guatay. In doing so, it had to cross Pine Valley creek at a rather deep section. The valley was bridged using a new method called “Segmental Balanced Cantilever”, which resulted in the highest bridge on the Interstate system at 450 feet above the floor of the canyon.
Today, little remains of the tunnel’s planned location. Only vestiges of the old alignment can be seen around the large cut where the tunnel was planned. A vista point was constructed within the cut as well, at the edge of which a portion of the original alignment can be seen. I-8 also utilizes a portion of the 1950’s alignment. From near Viejas Creek to just west of East Willows, the two outermost lanes of I-8 eastbound mostly use the 1950’s concrete, with portions replaced and a new lane added to the left. From East Willows to near the Vista Point, westbound I-8 follows the 1950’s alignment, while not using the paving as it does to the west, it does follow the grade. You can see this in the road cuts as the style of cut is different between each side of the freeway.
Following US 80 and its history across the mountains east of San Diego is fascinating. As technology progressed, each alignment became better and easier to travel. Unlike many other highways in California, US 80 didn’t go through an expressway phase. It went from a two lane highway to a four lane freeway on a new alignment. In doing so, the brief period when the original alignment was to be upgraded brought some interesting ideas. The tunnel, as well as some of the extra bridges planned, were a part of those ideas. They would be lost to time if it weren’t for a few bits of information on roadway plans from that era. In time, I may uncover yet more mysteries and unbuilt sections of the highway still unknown.
For the first time since 1949, a section of the San Diego Electric Railway, double track at that, is exposed for only a short time before it will be destroyed in Hillcrest. They last saw service on April 23, 1949 as a part of the #7 streetcar line. The City of San Diego is currently restoring the 1914 Georgia St bridge over University Ave. As a part of this project, they are also lowering University Ave between Park Blvd and Florida St.
These tracks represent a bit of San Diego history and I highly recommend a visit in the next week or so before they are gone. Remnants of the former railway are getting harder to find as time passes and more roads are torn up for various projects.
Los Angeles County Department of Public Works has a wealth of information available on their website. With a bit of patience and some looking around, you can find quite a few treasures using their mapping application. I’ve so far found the original survey data for the “Bridge To Nowhere” roadway, plans for other roadways that were never built in the Sierra Pelona Mountains, as well as the forest service permit for the Shoemaker Canyon Road that was never completed.
It has been a while since I’ve added to my US 6 tour. For quite some time, it “only” went to Tonopah, Nevada. While that town makes for a good end point, it left quite a bit of very interesting and scenic highway out of the tour. US 6 across Nevada is one of the emptiest highways in the lower 48 states. It gives travelers and geologists alike a very good cross section of the Great Basin as well as a look at the mining past of Nevada. With that in mind, my US 6 tour now extends to the Utah / Nevada State Line, covering approximately 620 miles of roadway.
When you did deep enough and look hard enough, you’ll find there is far more history left in Southern California than you might think. I have found this to be true when it comes to finding wigwags in the region. This one, in Hawthorne, CA, is along a former Pacific Electric Railway line that headed to Manhattan Beach. Located at Eucalyptus Ave just north of El Segundo Blvd, it still presses on as a lasting tribute to the old railway, now a part of the Union Pacific Railroad.