CityDig: How 1946’s L.A. River Freeway Became Today’s 710


Click map to enlarge

This rosy cartographic view of the “soon to be built” Los Angeles River Freeway is one part reality and several parts fantasy. In the post-war freeway fever, all of California was being sized up for automotive rapid transit, and the idea of connecting L.A. with Orange County and Long Beach seemed like an essential piece in the puzzle. The real Los Angeles River Freeway came into being six years later in 1952 and was officially known by its Interstate highway number, Route 15, until 1964. It then became State highway Route 7 until 1983, when its name changed to California State Highway 710 (or “the 710,” as locals say), which is now one of the most traveled upon roads in the county.

Indeed the same highway, known since 1954 as the Long Beach freeway, certainly has offered sometimes-rapid transportation for millions of cars, particularly big rigs hauling freight down to the harbor in San Pedro. The 1958 Master Plan of freeways created by the Metropolitan Transportation Engineering Board had the Long Beach freeway occupying a key hub in the network that would allow motorists to traverse the county efficiently.

Another dream expressed on this map is the city beautiful ideal, with public spaces, roaring fountains and an impressive Florence avenue bridge that makes the Los Angeles River Freeway look very idyllic indeed. Unfortunately, anyone driving over the 710 freeway on Florence during rush hour knows that it is a far cry from the sweet scene imagined here. What’s more, had the bridge pictured here been built, it might have been disastrous during the occasional winter deluges in Southern California. A much more utilitarian structure exists today, and like many local bridges, it is in dire need of repair.

The original plan for this Los Angeles River Freeway called for an 18-½ mile link between the city of Long Beach and Pasadena, but by the time the road hit Alhambra the local populace stopped it in its tracks. That being said, highway officials have yet to give up on lengthening the road. The $2 billion, 6.2 mile extension through Pasadena and other communities is still being debated rather heatedly in places where homeowners would be displaced and locals would be forced to endure years of construction and has been a subject of great interest to preservationists and citizen groups for the past 40 years.

Above: Proposed Los Angeles River Freeway, Los Angeles Evening Herald, March 18, 1946

Los Angeles Public Library map librarian Glen Creason shares a map from the Central Library’s collection at CityThink each week. 

Related Content

  • Joanne Nuckols

    This is a very interesting article from the archives. Having been involved in the fight against the extension of the 710 for years, I’m shocked by the $2 billion price tag from 1946, because it is way more than was being quoted in the 1980’s. At that time, Caltrans was quoting under $100 million. In the early 2000’s the surface freeway cost estimates had jumped to $1.4 billion.

    There has been a federal injunction in place since 1973 which is why the surface freeway was never built. Now Metro officials are fantasizing about twin bore toll tunnels to extend the road. The current cost estimates from the last ten years of $1-14 billion are so wildly variable that they are invalid.

    If the officials can’t figure out how much a mega public works project is going to cost in 67 years, it’s time to drop it completely and move on to projects that are the future of the LA basin…TRANSIT!

  • CV Gal

    A dream that never came to be. Oh wait, they are still trying to built the damn thing whether we want it or not!

  • Daniel Faigin

    A correction to this article: The Los Angeles River freeway was never *Interstate* Route 15. Before 1964, there were two numbering system: the legislative route number, and the signed route number. The Los Angeles River freeway was Legislative Route 167, defined in 1933. It was State Sign Route 15. In 1964, the legislative and sign numbers were unified, and to permit 15 to be used for the Interstate (former US 395/91), the route was renumbered as Route 7. Later, it was approved as non-chargeable Interstate, and assigned the I-710 number (although the stub at the Route 134/I-210 interchange is technically only State Sign Route 710). More details on my Route 710 page.