What’s wrong with this picture? Nothing, if it was February 1946. It’s a one-lane road through the Cañon Cabrillo — Cabrillo Canyon — with the majestic 1915 Cabrillo Bridge in San Diego’s Balboa Park.

Today, that swell sedan would be on the wrong side of the freeway.

What are the guys below celebrating? They’re proud of progress and the newfangled freeway that was going to run through Balboa Park, back in the days when we loved our beautiful freeways running through beautiful surroundings.

The road in our top picture was called Caminito Cabrillo on a map of the 1915 Panama California Exposition. Running under the bridge and by Laguna Cabrillo, a lake next to the bridge, there was a connection to Quince Street which is still partially in use. Imagine more trees and lake next time you’re stuck in traffic on today’s Highway 163.

Mayor Harley Knox breaks ground as C. Arnoldt Smith rejoyces. Photo courtesy California Highways and Public Works magazine.
Mayor Harley Knox breaks ground as C. Arnoldt Smith rejoyces. Photo courtesy California Highways and Public Works magazine.
The freeway was completed a couple of years later. In the late 1950s, the interchange with Interstate 5 was constructed; it was then the meeting of U.S. highways 101 and 395 (395 was replaced here by 163, 101 by I-5). The plan in the 1950s, blocked by the locals marching with torches and pitchforks, was to widen the freeway to eight lanes through the park. That’s another story.

Oh, and by the way, C. Arnholt Smith, the guy with the big smile, was a big wheel in San Diego and a member of the state highway commission at the time of this photo. 23 years later, became the first owner of the San Diego Padres, which he sold in 1973. He was a pal of President Richard Nixon. In 1979, he was convicted of tax evasion and other charges.

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