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Los Angeles: 1950s Images of an Evolving Freeway Network

The City of Los Angeles, CA, and the surrounding area is filled with a complex network of Freeways, which began when Ramona Boulevard Freeway opened to traffic in 1935. It was followed by the Arroyo Seca Parkway in 1940, better known as the Pasadena Freeway (the 110 today.)

Planning the regional highway system began as early as 1933, followed by the Automobile Club of Southern California’s 1937 “Traffic Survey” that contributed to pre-war efforts to define what the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area freeway system might look like in the future.

Today’s featured images were taken in the early-1950s as the post-war freeway network was evolving and beginning to take shape. The lead image taken on June 6, 1951, contains traffic leaving the Hollywood Freeway (101) at the  Silverlake Blvd. exit.

Please share with us what you find of interest in these pictures that are courtesy of the Los Angeles Examiner Photographs Collection at the USC Libraries.

  • The Hollywood Freeway (101 today) looking east from the Rosemont Ave. overpass on December 24, 1954.

  • A detour off of the Harbor Freeway (110) between Washington and Pico Boulevards in Los Angeles, July 27, 1958. 

  • The Cahuenga Pass on the Hollywood Freeway (101) photographed on November 17, 1952. The roadway was originally named the Cahuenga Pass Freeway when it opened in 1940. 


25 responses to “Los Angeles: 1950s Images of an Evolving Freeway Network

  1. I’d be happy behind the wheel of most anything in these photos, but that`40 Ford coupe with the skirts in the first photo is SWEET!!!!!!!!

    “Hey Santa…………” 😉

    • I believe the Ford Coupe is a ’39 DeLuxe. Note the roll out windshield, the “cat whiskers” stainless trim on the nose of the hood. The fender skirts look good on the car. I also believe it has some kind of sealed beam headlight conversion going on. It’s a sharp car either way.

    • That’s a 1939 deluxe with what appear to be aftermarket sealed beam headlights. ’39 was the last year for the top hinged, operable windshields. Prettiest Ford since 1932, in my opinion:-)

      • You are correct, it’s a 39 with wiper arms above the windshield, no cowl ventilator and no vent wing windows on the doors.
        1940 had fixed windshield, cowl ventilator and wiper arm shafts came through the cowl below the windshield. Also 40 was the first year for the vent wing windows on the doors.

  2. In the Lead Photo, right lane, a ’49 Roadmaster, a ’41 Ford, ’50 Chrysler Windsor or Royal, and probably a ’46-’48 DeSoto. Left lane headed by a ’39 Ford with sealed-beam conversions and a ’51 Studebaker.

    In Item 2 of 5 may be a two-tone ’41 Nash Ambassador sedan on the left with a ’52 Mercury Monterey and a ’53 Bel Air with trailer coming at us. up front a ’53 Plymouth Club Coupe, likely a Cranbrook, and a ’53 Chevy with a possible ’42-’48 Senior Buick convertible between them.

    In Item 3 of 5, a ’56 T-bird with continental kit behind a ’47 Chevy that’s beside a ’56 Mercury Monterey, also with a continental kit. Newest appears to be a white ’58 Buick in the outside lane just this side of the bridge and just maybe a ’56 Packard Clipper on the inside lane

  3. I got my drivers license in 1957 when I lived a couple of miles north of the San Bernardino (nee Ramona) Freeway.
    I could be in any of those nice cars in those nice pictures!
    Driver, drivers, driver’s or driving license?

  4. In the second photo, I believe the rear car in the left lane is a Studebaker Skyway. I’m not expert enough to say much more from this view, but guessing a ’41 President.

    • Good eye, it is indeed a 1941 Studebaker President Skyway Land Cruiser, a top-of-the-line model. Considering it would have been thirteen years old at the time, its condition looks very good for its age.

  5. 1st pic I think I’ve seen. I believe they are all getting off because that was the end of the open freeway. Think of all the Hollywood stars stuck in traffic like a common schmoe. 2nd pic, the car behind Lamont Sanford appears to be the oldest one, and only one tail light. I thought all states required 2 lamps by then. 3rd pic, obviously, the other way isn’t done yet. Quick note on the L.A. freeways. Watching old Adam-12 reruns, a lot of their “chase scenes” were filmed on unfinished portions of the freeway. I read, they gave Jack Webb special permission to do so. He must have had some sway in Hollywood.

  6. The 1958 photo: .VWs weren’t too common then.
    Nice T-Bird probably the most likely car in this series of photos to have survived.

  7. In the 2nd picture [1st expandable photograph], following the “Olson’s Bread” truck, is a 1942 BUICK convertible, either a Roadmaster or Super. As there is no “gun-site” ornament visible, it wouldn’t be a newer vehicle,

    This may be the same as identified by Pat W. above. On my screen only a total of four pictures are visible. Earlier today there were less pictures, along with a few “Xed-out” pictures.

  8. Not many foreign cars here, even in progressive California, though that would change dramatically within just a few years. In the last photo, the third car up in the second lane from the left may be an Austin sedan.

  9. Boy, the Cahuenga Pass freeway (photo #4) doesn’t look like that nowadays. The tracks are gone and the freeway has been widened. The 2nd picture shows a very short off ramp which reminds me of the Arroyo Seco freeway which still has very short off ramps and to slow and to a car from the 40’s and 50’s nowadays is dangerous feat to undertake. I know because I struggled doing it!

    That Ford coupe in the 1st picture is a standout!

    These are some awesome pictures!

  10. The third photo shows the old Pacific Electric tracks that connected the San Fernando Valley to Los Angeles. It sure would be nice to have that rail service now. The P.E. was a great system and Los Angeles would have been far better off by finding a way to modernize it instead of eagerly dismantling it. Now we live with the unfulfilled promises and unintended consequences of the rush to build freeways everywhere. Something to think about whenever we consider discarding an existing type of technology for something “newer and better”.

    • Today the Metro Rail’s Red Line connects the San Fernando Valley to L.A. but it’s an underground system. In the section shown in the Cahuenga pass photo those rails are probably in the same location but are now under the 101, connecting Universal Studio’s and Hollywood/Highland stations.

  11. 3rd photo 45-47 Dodge Panel Truck, big bumper guard, fancy door art advertsing and two toned paint , in front of that is early VW bug, one lane to the right rear of the Dodge Panel is a 55 Chevy.

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