March 23, 2015
Las Flores Drive is about 20 feet wide, curb-to-curb. It is one of the narrowest streets to run contiguously for as long as it does, and to also feature sidewalks on both sides of the street. It’s no surprise people sometimes mistake it for an alley, it really is a quaint street. However, without community engagement, there is a good chance the street would not exist in its tranquil state, if at all.
134 Freeway Plans Take Shape
In the 1950s, plans to complete the 134 Freeway (then referred to as the Colorado Boulevard Freeway) started to take shape. At this point, the freeway already ran through Burbank and Pasadena, but it did not yet go through Glendale or Eagle Rock[i]. Initially, there were a few routing configurations being considered for the portion through Eagle Rock. One proposal had the freeway running south of Colorado Boulevard along Chickasaw Avenue, while the other two placed the freeway north of the boulevard, with one along Las Flores Drive and the other on Hill Drive.
These routes were immediately opposed by a substantial portion of the neighborhood, including local elected officials and the Chamber of Commerce. Hundreds of people attended meetings lasting several hours. In 1959, Eagle Rock’s Assembly Representative, John Collier, boldly proclaimed that a freeway through Eagle Rock “brings no benefits” to anyone [ii]. Eagle Rock residents protested on the behalf of the numerous residents that would be displaced by the freeway routing with one local at the time stating:
“A freeway that would cut Eagle Rock in two would kill this community as a lovely residential suburb.” [iii]
In response to the state’s careless, insensitive freeway routing preferences, a group of Eagle Rock residents very early on in the planning stages proposed the freeway be placed as far up into the northern hillside as possible [iv]. Although it is impossible to sneak a freeway through a community unnoticed, running the 134 freeway in the hills would be the least obtrusive and require the least amount of homes be demolished to accommodate the regional automobile corridor. The Chamber of Commerce conducted polls asking Eagle Rock residents which route they favored; a route as far north as possible proved popular.
“North Eagle Rock Homeowner’s Association” Opposes Hill Drive Route
Naturally, suggestions of pushing the freeway against the hills did not sit well with residents along Hill Drive and the streets north of it. A group of residents formed the “North Eagle Rock Homeowner’s Association,” opposing any route in the immediate vicinity of Hill Drive [v]. The Association asserted the Chamber of Commerce was producing biased polls to favor a northern alignment of the 134 Freeway with one member stating a freeway route should be based on “engineering and financial facts rather than public sentiment.” Arguments against a northerly running freeway route included that it would cost more money and likely destroy Eagle Rock Park. The Eagle Rock Homeowner’s Association found an ally in the Los Angeles Recreation and Park Commission insofar that the Commission went on the record as opposing any route that would go through Eagle Rock Park [vi].
“Northeast Skyway League” Wants Freeway to go Around Eagle Rock, Not Through It
In 1960, group of residents formally organized the “Northeast Skyway League” to fully advocate for routing the 134 Freeway as far north into the hills as possible [vii]. The Skyway League argued a freeway in the hills would provide a more pleasant and scenic experience. The group was headed by Les Rice, President of the Chamber of Commerce.
As evident from their local organizing and involvement in the Northeast Skyway League, the Chamber of Commerce fiercely opposed the freeway. The reason for the Chamber’s opposition stemmed from the belief that any route through the center of Eagle Rock – and in particular the Las Flores route – would isolate residents from their neighbors and local shops while sending business to shopping districts in Pasadena and Glendale [viii].
Highway engineers criticized the Skyway League’s proposal, telling the community that a route far up into the ridge of local foothills would cost $15 million more than the engineer-favored routes and that the Skyway League’s route would not provide sufficient service [ix].
Despite pushback from engineers, Assemblymember John Collier defended the Skyway League’s proposed route in the foothills. He argued:
“The present Colorado Boulevard through Eagle Rock is wider than the proposed freeway. Eagle Rock is a bedroom community and doesn’t need a freeway. It will obtain no benefits and will only be damaged by such a route.” [x]
State Highway Engineers Favor Las Flores Route
By 1960, to the delight of the North Eagle Rock Homeowner’s Association, the state highway engineers formally favored routing the 134 freeway along Las Flores, which was planned to have two access points for on- and off-ramps [xi]. The engineers claimed this route would provide the best service, be the cheapest to construct and afford the most benefits to the community. This route would require nearly 400 homes be removed to build the freeway [xii]. The Skyway League’s route, by comparison, would only require the removal of 12 homes and the organization insisted no on- or off-ramps were necessary in Eagle Rock because Colorado Boulevard provided all the access people need [xiii]. Although the organization lacked the backing of professional engineers, it was supported by the Chamber of Commerce, Assemblymember Collier, and Eagle Rock’s city council representative, John C. Holland.
“Eagle Rock Citizens Protective League” Presents a Middle Ground
Neighborhood opinion was split further when Harry Lawson, publisher of the Eagle Rock Sentinel, formed yet another organization with its own favored route. This group was named the Eagle Rock Citizens Protective League, and preferred a route just north of Hill Drive. This route was estimated to require the removal of about 150 homes and considered a compromise between the Homeowners’ Association and Skyway League [xiv].
“Eagle Rock Freeway Association” Pushes for ‘No Freeway’ Alternative
There were now three organizations, each advocating different routings for the 134 Freeway, and in 1961 another would form. The newest voice in the conversation was a group called the Eagle Rock Freeway Association. The Freeway Association opposed any freeway through Eagle Rock but would favor a route south of Colorado Boulevard if a freeway was deemed absolutely necessary [xv]. The organization was comprised primarily of residents living along Hill Drive.
Highway Commission Selects “Hill Drive” Route
Shortly after the Freeway Association entered the discussion, the Highway Commission picked the route preferred by the Citizens Protective League [xvi]. This was a rare case in that Commission’s decision rejected the official recommendation from the state highway engineers. At this point, the Skyway League dropped its opposition due to fear that further discussion might lead the Highway Commission to change its decision and go with a more southernly route. The Skyway League urged Assemblymember Collier to adopt their view, which he did.
However, the Freeway Association continued their fight, arguing that the mile-long freeway connector in Eagle Rock to the already-built portion of the freeway would be abandoned if a route north of Colorado Boulevard were built. Highway officials countered that the freeway stub would become an on- and off-ramp [xvii].
Final Attempts to Block Freeway Construction
After a decision had been formally selected, phone surveys conducted in Eagle Rock showed most residents did not want any freeway of any kind going through the neighborhood. One resident opposed to the freeway remarked:
“There are no serious traffic problems in the community, which is completely developed, and we see no way problems could arise in the future.” [xviii]
Dissatisfied with the Commission’s decision, a petition circulated asking the two Assembly Members for the area to create legislation that would remove any freeway routing through Eagle Rock [xix]. The effort would ultimately be unsuccessful.
Neighborhood Engagement and Advocacy Yields Results
Although the freeway would eventually be built, the neighborhood’s resistance yielded results. Not only did the Highway Commission reject the engineers’ recommendation and choose a considerably less invasive freeway route, but in 1964 plans for an on- and off-ramp at Eagle Rock Boulevard were discarded [xx]. The freeway was also built to go around Eagle Rock Park, rather than through it.
Opening Day of Freeway Protest
The 134 Freeway would not be completed until 1971. While welcomed by some, during its opening ceremony Eagle Rock’s Councilmember, Art Snyder, was critical of the freeway. Synder declined his seat on a platform of dignitaries and called the construction of the freeway “an ecological disaster.” He would go on to say:
“Eagle Rock would be just as well off without this freeway. The tragedy is that it was placed through the most beautiful portion of the community.” [xxi]
The freeway’s opening ceremony was also disrupted by “Friends of the Earth,” a student organization from Occidental College. The protestors carried signs reading “Freeways are Not the Answer,” “Millions for Freeways, Pennies for Clean Air,” and “LA Needs Mass Transit Now” [xxii].
Reflecting on the Freeway Today
Unlike the 710 Freeway, which is still debated to this date, the 134 Freeway was built. Although some remember what the neighborhood was like before it, today it is difficult to imagine what life would be like without the freeway. The most unfortunate by-product of the freeway’s construction is that recreational hillside access was almost completely eliminated. Before the freeway, residents could hike into the hills and the neighborhood was more connected with the Glenoaks Canyon neighborhood in Glendale.
However, the freeway did present benefits as well. With the freeway completed, trash trucks from Glendale no longer used Colorado Boulevard to reach the Scholl Canyon Landfill (another contentious neighborhood issue). Perhaps without the freeway going through Eagle Rock, Colorado Boulevard would be like Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, where a freeway was planned but never built. The two cities seem are doing well but there is no denying they feel the squeeze on their streets during rush hour. In this sense, the freeway has allowed Eagle Rock’s main street to be somewhat preserved for local traffic and created opportunities to have a more pedestrian-oriented boulevard.
For better or for worse, the freeway was a major force in changing the small-town character of Eagle Rock and shaping the neighborhood we know today. Additionally, regardless of one’s opinion on the freeway, this chapter in Eagle Rock’s history demonstrates that engaged advocacy from residents can impact decision-making.
[i] “Decision on Freeway Bogs Down: State Commission to Study Proposals on Disputed Routes” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Oct 18, 1959, pg GB1
[iv] “Freeway Route Hit by Owners: Eagle Rock Masses for Protest Against Hill Dr. Proposal” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Oct 4, 1959; pg. GB1
[vi] “Freeway Route Through Playground Opposed” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Oct 25, 1959; pg. GB_A12
[vii] “Eagle Rock, Citizens Urge Freeway ‘In Sky'” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Jan 20, 1960; pg. 12
[viii] “Eagle Rock Split on Freeway Route: Community Divided Into Three…” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Dec 18, 1960; pg. F3
[ix] “Eagle Rock, Citizens Urge Freeway ‘In Sky'” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Jan 20, 1960; pg. 12
[x] “Three-Way Fight Erupts Over Freeway Routing: Glendale, Eagle Rock and…” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Oct 28, 1960; pg. B1
[xi] “Eagle Rock Split on Freeway Route: Community Divided Into Three…” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Dec 18, 1960; pg. F3
[xii] “Leaders to Fight Freeway Routing: Glendale, Eagle Rock Residents Fear Economic Damage to Area” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Jul 3, 1960; pg. GB1
[xiii] “Eagle Rock Split on Freeway Route: Community Divided Into Three…” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Dec 18, 1960; pg. F3
[xv] “Eagle Rock Will Ask Hearing on Freeway: Data Being Gathered to Support Plea” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Mar 26, 1961; pg. GB1
[xviii] “Freeway Hit In Phone Poll: Eagle Rock Residents Tell Thoroughfare Opposition” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Apr 16, 1961; pg. GB1
[xx] “Eagle Rock Asks Freeway On, Off Ramps” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); May 28, 1964; pg. H1
[xxi] “Ventura Freeway Criticized at Dedication” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Aug 19, 1971; pg. SG1