Get Out of the Way of the Highway

The San Mateo County Historical Association’s President Mitch Postel will present Get Out of the Way for the Highway: How Highway Construction Changed the Landscape of Post-War San Mateo County, on Thursday, January 28 at 3 p.m.  Postel and the archival staff of the San Mateo County History Museum have recently taken in a collection of California Division of Highway files from the post-World War II era which documented the process of appraising lands needed for the creation of freeways and highways through the San Francisco Peninsula.  Postel’s online presentation will be illustrated by photographs taken by the Division showing developed and undeveloped properties necessary for the construction.

Photos: El Camino Real & Crystal Springs Road Right of Way Acquisition Project, CA Division of Highways, 1951-1953.

El Camino Real with cars in the early 1950s

The collection of records detail the California Division of Highways appraisal work in San Mateo County during the period of the late 1940s through the early 1970s.  These files detail the extensive amount of property necessary for the state to widen Highway 1, El Camino Real and Woodside Road and create the Bayshore Freeway, State Highway 92, Interstate 280 and Interstate 380 among other projects.  Nearly every San Mateo County community was affected.

For some of the communities this meant major change.  In San Mateo, residential and commercial properties were lost to the construction of the Bayshore Freeway and the building of State Highway 92.  East Palo Alto was cut in half by the Bayshore and suffered severe economic consequences.  Half Moon Bay was similarly sliced in two when Highway 1 was straightened out through it.  Even Montara lost houses – – and to a project that never happened.  The Division of Highways originally decided it necessary to bypass Devil’s Slide by building Highway 1 through Montara.  While the Tom Lantos Tunnel project made this unnecessary, the homes were still taken and demolished.

Perhaps no community experienced greater change then San Bruno.  Here El Camino Real widening projects and Interstate 280 construction took many parcels.  However it was Interstate 380 that had tremendous impact.  Originally intended to link Bayshore Freeway with the Coastside’s Highway 1, it only reached as far as Interstate 280.  Nevertheless, in order to create the interchange at Bayshore and move up the hill to 280, four large undeveloped parcels were acquired from San Francisco International Airport, three undeveloped parcels were taken on the west side of Bayshore, six parcels were bought near the railroad tracks, a large portion of the Naval Base on El Camino Real was needed as was land once the former Tanforan Racetrack.  Of particular note, in a day when we recognize there is a housing shortage, an astounding 81 single family homes were taken because they were in the three-mile path of 380.  Other improved properties that were required included three commercial buildings, one Union Hall and one church.

Mitch Postel has been the Executive Director/President of the San Mateo County Historical Association since 1984. He taught history at the College of San Mateo and is a frequent speaker on San Mateo County history. Postel is a member of the San Mateo County Historic Resources Advisory Board and the Immediate Past-Chairman of the San Mateo County Visitors and Convention Bureau. He is the author of seven books on local history.

Next on the Docket

Saturday, February 20 at 1 p.m.: Panel discussion on Lunar New Year.  Register here for the webinar.

Saturday, March 13 at 1 p.m.: Judge Amarra A. Lee. Register here for the webinar.

Cypress Lawn Heritage Foundation logo

The Courthouse Docket is a monthly series of presentations held in the History Museum’s Historic Courtroom A. The Courthouse Docket Series is sponsored by Cypress Lawn Heritage Foundation.

Usually, the Courthouse Docket occurs in Courtroom A at the History Museum.

Due to COVID-19, the program has moved online.