60 Years Ago: Hollywood Freeway Opened Through Civic Center
A crowd lines the Grand Avenue overpass to hear the dedication speeches for the Hollywood Freeway's new link through the Civic Center on December 20, 1951.
DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES — On December 20, 1951, the first cars were driven through the "Downtown slot," the half-mile link connecting the Hollywood and Santa Ana freeways.
It had been just a year earlier that the freeway had opened the highway's first stretch, extending from Silver Lake Boulevard to Grand Avenue. Two more miles opened in September of 1951, as the highway was extended from Silver Lake to Western Avenue.
The Civic Center link was considered the key one in the system, however, giving motorists two more ramps into Downtown and a connection to the Santa Ana freeway. The project cost $6,358,000, and opened one month earlier than expected.
The stretch claimed its first fatality just hours after opening. 75-year-old Robert E. Ewing had been watching construction workers, and was struck when he attempted to cross the westbound traffic lanes against heavy traffic.
Nearly ever since the highway opened, Angelenos have been scheming ideas to put something atop it.
In 1966, a city report urged that the space on top of the slot be used to build a 1,272-space parking garage. The move to use the freeway right-of-way would save almost half the cost of a land-based garage, the report said.
In 1988, the bizarre "steel cloud" won a design competition put on by the city. The planned structure by New York architects Hani Rashid and Lise Anne Couture would have featured aquariums and projection screens.
Today, the backers of Park 101 are pushing a $400 million plan to build green space over the stretch of freeway between the Los Angeles River and Grand Avenue.