Today in Transportation History – 1938: Groundbreaking for a Groundbreaking Freeway

A groundbreaking ceremony was held for a pioneering highway between Los Angeles and Pasadena in southern California. Over the course of two decades, the plans for building the Arroyo Seco Parkway had steadily taken shape in response to the mushrooming use of automobiles throughout the region.

The festivities marking the launch of construction on the highway took place at South Arroyo Boulevard and Sterling Street in South Pasadena. Cheryl Walker, who had presided as Queen of that year’s Tournament of Roses Parade in downtown Pasadena, pulled the lever on a giant steam shovel to move the first earth for the new route.

Construction on the Parkway was completed more than two years later, with the official opening ceremony held in December 1940. Those participating in the ceremony included Sally Stanton, who assumed the throne shortly thereafter as the 1941 Queen of the Tournament of Roses Parade.

The Parkway was the first freeway in not only California but also the entire western portion of the United States. At the time of its debut, the Parkway was considered to be of one of the nation’s major engineering achievements. This was because the grade-separated, limited-access, high-speed route brought together design elements of the traditional parkway with more modern safety and efficiency features.

The Parkway reduced the average travel time between Los Angeles and Pasadena from 27 minutes to just 12 minutes, and it also became the initial segment of what is now that region’s extensive freeway network. The parkway was renamed the Pasadena Freeway in 1954 but went back to its original designation of the Arroyo Seco Parkway in 2010.

For more information on the groundbreaking ceremony for the Arroyo Seco Parkway, please check out

Additional information on the parkway is available at

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