As Caltrans begins a $6.5 billion project to rebuild Interstate 5 from La Jolla to Oceanside, let’s look back 83 years to December 16, 1933, when leaders from San Diego, California, the U.S., and Mexico gathered at Sports Field (later Lane Field) in downtown San Diego to dedicate the “Million Dollar Highway.”

Bypassed by Interstate 5 in the early 1960s, this extraordinary new road was U.S. 101 running south from Del Mar to downtown San Diego. Big changes were:

  • The bridge over the Santa Fe railroad tracks, since restored by the City of Del Mar and still in use;
  • What’s now Torrey Pines Road, replacing the snaking road you can still drive into the Torrey Pines State Reserve;
  • Gilman Drive;
  • East Mission Bay Drive;
  • and Pacific Highway south from Mission Bay.
STATE, NAVY AND MEXICO were represented at the official ceremonies. On the speaker's stand, left to right are: Rear Admiral William T. Terrant, U. S. N., Commandant, 11th Naval District; Tom Hurley, chairman, San Diego Supervisors; Earl Lee Kelly, State Director of Public Works; Philip A. Stanton, State Highway Commissioner; Fred Lockwood, City Manager; Frank Forward, San Diego Chamber of Commerce; Chairman Harry A. Hopkins, Highway Commission; Mayor Jno. F. Forward; General Ortiz Rubio, Past President of Mexico.
STATE, NAVY AND MEXICO were represented at the official ceremonies. On the speaker’s stand, left to right are: Rear Admiral William T. Terrant, U. S. N., Commandant, 11th Naval District; Tom Hurley, chairman, San Diego Supervisors; Earl Lee Kelly, State Director of Public Works; Philip A. Stanton, State Highway Commissioner; Fred Lockwood, City Manager; Frank Forward, San Diego Chamber of Commerce; Chairman Harry A. Hopkins, Highway Commission; Mayor Jno. F. Forward; General Ortiz Rubio, Past President of Mexico. December 16, 1933, courtesy California Highways and Public Works Magazine via Internet Archive

What’s missing today is the stretch from Torrey Pines Road and Genesee Avenue, south to La Jolla Village Drive and Gilman Drive. That piece was removed by UC San Diego in the 1960s. The portion in the Torrey Pines State Reserve from the visitor center to the golf course is closed to traffic, but still contains original pavement from 1915.

1933 improvements
1933 improvements

It took drivers away from a circuitous route around the bluffs of Del Mar and Torrey Pines, a trip by what’s now Scripps Institute of Oceanography, through La Jolla and Pacific Beach, and around Mission Bay. Give that route a try today from Del Mar to Downtown and it will take you all day. Imagine all the traffic from San Diego to Los Angeles running up the “Biological Grade” north of Scripps (now La Jolla Shores Drive); even in 1933, that was a lot of very slow cars and trucks.

Check out the story on page 6 of the January, 1934, edition of California Highways and Public Works via the Internet Archive. And while you’re there, make a donation to keep the site going; it’s a huge resource of history.

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