Highway signs have changed as much as the roads over the last century, but it might be nice to put this one back.

This classy sign showed drivers the way to La Jolla and San Diego when the Million Dollar Highway opened in late 1932. The intersection was the end of work that straightened out what contemporary accounts called “one of the most tortuous and dangerous grades on any major highway in the State.”

It’s where today’s Genesee Avenue and Torrey Pines Road meet, near Scripps Clinic and on the north edge of UC San Diego.

The original highway, marked as U.S. 101 in 1926, followed today’s Torrey Pines Road south to what’s now La Jolla Shores Drive. What? That twisty road that runs down from UCSD to Scripps Institute and the beach at La Jolla Shores?

Yup. Through the 1920s, that was the main road between San Diego and Los Angeles. Like the original Torrey Pines Grade, early automobiles must have had to back up the steep grade heading north on La Jolla Shores Drive past where Scripps is today. It has to do with cars that don’t have fuel pumps, but that’s another story.

Drivers turning right would go through La Jolla. To the left was the “Rose Canyon Route.” Today, Genesee curves east, but in those days it headed south, through what’s now UC San Diego. While the old highway has mostly disappeared on the campus, it picks up again south of La Jolla Village Drive as Gilman Drive and continued on the current I-5 alignment.

This story, from the December 1932 edition of California Highways and Public Works preserved on archive.org, details all the planning and construction of this 4.4-mile project.

And history continued during the work. The 1932 Olympics were going on in Los Angeles, which caused an “unusually heavy volume of traffic” through the grade. It took 77 days to pave less than five miles and 375,000 cars used the road during that time. Today, 85 years later, more than 200,000 vehicles use modern Interstate 5 in that area every day.

Santa brings funds to California in 1932. From California Highways and Public Works, December 1932. Courtesy archive.org
Santa brings funds to California in 1932. From California Highways and Public Works, December 1932. Courtesy archive.org

And I couldn’t resist posting a photo of the magazine’s cover; it’s just so 1932. Make it your next San Diego day trip; check out the Quintessential California chapter Joyrides Around San Diego.

4 comments

  1. “It’s where today’s Genesee Avenue and Torrey Pines Road meet” Incorrect. The old junction was almost a mile south of there, where UCSD’s Mandeville Center is today, approximately 200 yards northeast of today’s intersection of Torrey Pines Road and La Jolla Shores Drive (old Miramar Road). The old junction can be seen in 1964 in this photo taken from the opposite direction from Urey Hall looking north. https://library.ucsd.edu/dc/object/bb4949896d

    1. Great photo, but it says “Intersection of Highway 101 and Miramar Road.” Here’s a 1964 map clearly showing that in those days Miramar Road wandered over to the campus south of Genesee Avenue. It shows Revelle College, which is where Urey Hall is located, south of Miramar Road. Look to the north and you’ll see Genesee. They’ve all been moved around over the years, but I stand by my statement. Thanks for the comment and see you on the road!

      1. Yes, precisely, and like I said, as you can see, Genesee is about a mile north of the junction with the sign that you were referring to. So it was not “where today’s Genesee Avenue and Torrey Pines Road meet,” as you said in the article. The map clearly shows that.

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