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80 Years Ago: Three North Figueroa Tunnels Dedicated

By Eric Richardson
Published: Monday, November 21, 2011, at 09:18AM
Figueroa Street Tunnels California Historical Society / USC Digital Archives

Cars pass through the three North Figueroa Street tunnels opened through Elysian Park in 1931.

On November 21, 1931, more than 3000 people gathered in Elysian Park to dedicate the three North Figueroa Elysian Park tunnels, celebrating the connection of the city's north side to Downtown.

Speakers praised the beauty of the public works and the way that they integrated with the park surroundings.

While thousands of Angelenos still make their way through the tunnels each day, they wouldn't quite have recognized the route as it first opened.

At the southern end, the three tunnels dropped motorists out onto Solano Avenue. On the north, they ended in the sharp left-hand turn of today's ramp to the 5 freeway, connecting in an awkward Y-intersection to the Riverside Drive bridge over the L.A. River.

While it took another five years for the span to resemble the highway of today, the tunnels were still a major start.

Planning had begun years earlier. On December 17, 1925, the L.A. Times reported that the Council would be "treated to a magic lantern show" as the city's Engineering Department projected slides showing the Figueroa extension onto a screen hung over the Council President's chair.

Work began in April of 1930. Tunnels on each end were bored, while the shorter, middle tunnel was dug out and encased in concrete, with earth then replaced on top. The extension was opened up to traffic in the last week of October, 1930.

In 1935, work was begun on the fourth and final Figueroa tunnel, stretching from Bishops Road in Chinatown to Solano Avenue. In 1936, construction began on the roughly 1000-foot viaduct stretching from the northern tunnel across the railroad tracks, river and San Fernando Road. The bridge was dedicated on July 6, 1937, finally completing the North Figueroa extension.

Of course, it would only be a few years later that the section of road would become part of the Arroyo Seco parkway. The carefully designed tunnels would be joined in the 1950's by a much more utilitarian southbound span, leading to the freeway configuration familiar to drivers today.


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