U.S. Route 101 was designated in 1926 as one of the original U.S. Federal Highway system’s principal highways. It is a north-south (odd-numbered) highway that once connected the U.S./Canada border at Blaine, Washington with the U.S./Mexico border at San Ysidro, California (south of San Diego).
In the 1970s, vastly increased traffic volume between San Diego and Los Angeles conspired with just-completed Interstate 5 to cause the highway’s southern terminus to be moved north to the 4 Level Interchange in downtown Los Angeles. But the former U.S. highway south of Los Angeles remains an important and heavily used route today. But I get ahead of myself.
For the purposes of this piece, “Central California” is defined as that segment of this historic highway, southbound between the Golden Gate Bridge (San Francisco) and San Luis Obispo.
Above: The Golden Gate Bridge, completed in May, 1937, remains a beautiful triumph of highway engineering. Before the bridge was built, U.S. Route 101 service across the bay entrance was by ferry or, for the faint of heart, U.S. 101A (“Alternate”) around San Francisco Bay southbound through Richmond, Berkeley, Oakland (where it crossed U.S. Routes 40 and 50 near another ferry terminal serving those two east-west U.S. highways near today’s Jack London Square) Pleasanton, Hayward and San Jose.
Above: U.S. Route 101 is alive and well in downtown San Francisco. This is the intersection of Van Ness and Lombard Streets. The famous Lombard Street “zigzag” segment is just over the hill at the left background of this photo. Note someone else’s Porsche in the intersection. Small world.
Above: While much of U.S. Route 101 has been upgraded to Freeway status, much of its 1950s four-lane divided highway configuration remains in service today. Others parts still in service are two lane highway segments looking much as they appeared as far back as 1926. Note the parallel railroad track in the background, behind the tree. We did this trip in my 1969 Porsche 912.
Above: Skip and Larry Vanderford’s automotive shop in Gilroy, California has a nice touch of central California in front. These flowers add a nice touch to Gilroy’s business district and give Vanderford’s Automotive some nice “curb appeal”.
Above: Gilroy is considered the Garlic Capitol of the World, for good reason. Look on the jar of fresh garlic in your ‘fridge and it probably came from Gilroy. It’s an old (by California standards) town, too, as evidenced by this stately 1905 downtown building still in full service.
Above: Further south, San Miguel was put on the map by its namesake Catholic Mission founded in 1797. Today’s Mission Street, directly in front of the Mission’s main gate was, not surprisingly, an early alignment of U.S. Route 101 that originated as “El Camino Real” (the King’s Highway) in 1700’s Spanish California. Note the shiny railroad tracks just past the highway; U.S. highways and parallel railroad tracks a common sight are across the U.S.
Above: Clearly, the automobile has been very important to Californians from long before the 1926 U.S. Federal Highway System was created. This very early gas station now serves mostly local traffic as an outdoor café’/coffee shop because today’s U.S. Route 101 divided highway is about a quarter mile to the west. The old roadway just couldn’t keep up with California’s traffic.
Above: Still further south, almost to San Luis Obispo (named for yet another early Spanish Mission) we enjoy old, older and oldest in a single photo.
Old is the in-service U.S. 101 divided highway alignment getting a new coat of asphalt on the left.
Older is the former 2 lane alignment of U.S. Route 101 on the right, clearly obsolete but still in service as a local service road.
Oldest is not the bell marker itself, but what it represents – the original route of El Camino Real laid out in the 1700s by Spanish explorers. That dusty (or muddy) thread of a trail connected the California missions and held Spanish California together. It also formed the basis of U.S. Route 101 in Central California and still serves today’s highway travelers more than 200 years later.