“Autopia” Downtown Los Angeles, 1957
Streetlamps with dinosaur necks; speeding cars slowing on sharp curves and macaroni-and-cheese colored traffic signs that match the truck pulling a long, long trailer fashionably two-toned in battleship grey and lipstick red. This isn’t the real Autopia – oh-no! For that you would have to go to Tomorrowland in Disneyland.
This is the four-level interchange, known as the “stack”. When it was completed in 1953, it was the first high-way high rise anywhere in the world and the prototype for countless interchanges that followed. The ultra-modern four-story freeway quickly became the new heart of town and replaced Hollywood and Vine as the city’s most famous and photographed crossroads. Ironically, Disneyland’s “futuristic” Autopia was introduced to the world two years later in 1955.
Southern California’s freeway system began on the drawing boards in the 1930s. By 1940, the first two sections, the Pasadena Freeway, linking downtown with Pasadena, and the Cahuenga Pass, linking Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley, were complete. After World War II, construction began on the San Bernardino and Santa Ana Freeways. The “stack” was the centerpiece and crowning touch of the freeway system and conveniently linked them all. With the exception of the sheer volume of traffic it remains virtually unchanged today.
To me driving on the “stack,” or any other part of the freeway for that matter, is like going on the Autopia – only bigger! Just think for a minute how much more wonderful rush-hour would be if you could smash into the car in front of you over and over just for fun!