Historical Tour of US 99
The Golden State Highway
US 99 was one of major highways in the US highway system. The highway ran from Canada at Blaine, Washington to Mexico at Calexico, California, in the Imperial Valley. From Sacramento to Los Angeles, it was known as the Golden State Highway. US 99 first became a signed route in California in 1928 following the creation of the US Highway System in 1926. As a US route, the highway lasted until about 1972, when it was fully decommissioned. In California, this designation lasted until 1968. This tour will focus on the alignment before being replaced by I-5 and State Route 99. Some of these sections were abandoned and are no longer traversable by car.
Tour is open from Figueroa St in Los Angeles to the Kern River in Bakersfield
Routing of the highway through California
US 99 ran through the heart of California. It entered the state from Oregon near Siskyou Summit and left the state (and country) at Calexico. In between, it ran on the following course :
Hornbrook, Yreka, Weed, Mt. Shasta City, Dunsmuir, Redding, Red Bluff
At Red Bluff, US 99 split into US 99E and US 99W.
- US 99E’s route (Following current SR-99, SR-65):
- Los Molinos, Chico, Yuba City, Marysville, Lincoln, Roseville, Sacramento
- US 99W’s route (Following current I-5, SR-113, I-80):
- Corning, Maxwell, Arbuckle, Woodland, Davis, Sacramento
The routes rejoined in downtown Sacramento. From there, US 99 followed this routing:
Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto, Madera, Fresno, Tulare, Delano, Bakersfield, Santa Clarita, Los Angeles
In Los Angeles, Former US 99 leaves I-5, joins I-10 (Former US 60 and US 70), and goes through:
El Monte, Pomona (US 60 leaves), Colton, Redlands, Beaumont (US 60 rejoins), Indio
In Indio, former US 99 leaves I-10 (former US 60/US 70) to follow SR-86:
Valerie Jean, Oasis, Salton City, Kane Springs, Brawley, Heber, Calexico.
At Calexico, US 99 left SR-86 to follow SR-111:
Heading south on current SR-111, US 99 ended at the border in Calexico.
Thus is the routing of US 99 through the State of California.
Signs along US 99
History of the highway from Los Angeles to Bakersfield
Originally commissioned in 1926, it wouldn’t be signed in California until 1928. The first highway along the routing of what was to become US 99 was the Ridge Route. It was completed from Newhall Pass to Castaic in 1910 and over Tejon Pass in 1915. This twisty, narrow two lane road only lasted 18 years before being bypassed by US 99 in 1933.
In 1930, a three lane highway, the Newhall Alternate, was built through Weldon and Gavin Canyons bypassing Newhall and Saugus entirely. This new route was shorter and less steep. It also avoided the Newhall Tunnel. Early in 1931, construction began on a three lane highway over the Liebre Mountains which lie just north of Castaic. This was to bypass the treacherous curves and grades over the Ridge Route. Finally on October 29, 1933, US 99 was opened over the Liebre Mountains with three lanes. It was known as the Ridge Route Alternate. By 1936, all of the Ridge Route had been replaced over the mountains.
Traffic increased so much over the highway that in 1940 plans were made to widen the highway to four lanes. These plans were delayed until 1947 because of WWII. Below there is a list of most of the changes made to the highway from Newhall Pass to Tejon Pass. List runs from south to north. Most of this widening work was completed by 1953.
|Pico Road to Saugus Road||3.3 miles||$450,000||4-8-1949|
|Santa Clara River to Castaic Creek||2.6 miles||$489,000||5-13-1949|
|Palominos Creek to Violin Summit (Five Mile Grade)||2.6 miles||$795,000||6-9-1948|
|Violin Summit to Whitaker Summit||4.4 miles||$1,392,000||2-24-1949|
|Whitaker Summit to Piru Creek (Three Mile Grade)||3.8 miles||$1,420,000||10-8-1948|
|Los Alamos Creek to 2.3 miles S of SR-138 (at the Gorman Post Road / I-5 junction)||6.7 miles||$967,000||12-8-1949|
In 1954, the first portion of US 99 north of Los Angeles became a freeway. It ran from the CA 7, US 6, and US 99 interchange (now I-5 / I-210) to just beyond the US 6 / US 99 junction (now CA 14 / I-5). A three level interchange was built at the US 6 / US 99 interchange. This routing is now used by the truck routes of I-5.
Slowly, section by section US 99 was being replaced by I-5. In remained a signed US route until 1968. By 1970, almost all of old US 99 had been replaced by I-5 and I-10 in California.
Why is it called “The Grapevine”?
I-5 is commonly referred to as “The Grapevine” by locals and traffic reporters. Most assume the name derives from the twisty nature of the original roadway – the Ridge Route. That road was indeed very twisty, much like a grapevine. However, that is still not the reason. The name Grapevine actually comes from Grapevine Canyon, where old US 99 and I-5 come down from the mountains and into the San Joaquin Valley. The canyon is called such as wild grapes grow along the canyon walls. It was formerly known as Canada De Las Uvas which is Spanish for Canyon of the Grapes. The name Tejon Pass is also a “new” addition to the area. The current Tejon Pass was known as Grapevine Pass or Badger Pass until the 1850’s. Old Tejon Pass, much farther to the east, was a very treacherous route. That pass was eventually abandoned in favor of the current Tejon Pass. The name was just shifted to the new route.
After the 1933 bypass of the original road to as late as the 1970’s, the roadway over the mountains was still referred to as “The Ridge Route”. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the name “The Grapevine” was extended to the entire roadway. So, if you want to call it proper – call it Tejon Pass. While you’re passing through Grapevine Canyon, be sure to spot the wild grapevines that still grow in the canyon.
Pine and the Palm
Just north of Fresno, 1 3/4 miles south of Ave 12, and 2 1/10 miles north of Ave 9, there lies a pine tree and a palm tree in the median of Highway 99. It has been there for many years and marks the former halfway point along US 99 in California. The Palm Tree represents Southern California and the Pine Tree represents Northern California. A few years ago, the pine tree fell down but was replaced by Caltrans as this is a somewhat historic marker.
Photos of US 99 in Southern California
US 99 Museums and Books
I have been working on a book on US 99, which covers the history of the highway and the cities it passes through, for the Los Angeles to Bakersfield section. This book, while still a work in progress, is now available for download. Click here for the PDF file.
Bruce Clark’s Auto / Truck Stop and US 99 Museum in Indio, California. Definitely worth a visit.
Links to other US 99 sites:
- Historic Pacific Highway in Washington
- Indio and US 99
- Finding US 99 by Casey Cooper
- Bygone Byways
- Ends of US 99 and other US Highways
Copyright 1995-2015 by Michael Ballard