Highway One Modern History

For many years after its opening in 1937 highway one between Cambria and Carmel was mainly a seasonal road because it was frequently closed for extended periods of time during the rainy winter months. During World War II traffic along the road was reduced to a trickle due to rationing of both gasoline and rubber and the frequent “blackouts” required as a precaution against enemy aerial attacks.

After the war, traffic increased again and, in 1958, it became a tidal wave when Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument was opened to the public. At that time, Highway One passed through Cambria along Moonstone Beach Drive and then along Main Street through both West and East Villages and past Santa Rosa Creek Road to its present route. Although the initial hearing for the proposed “Cambria Bypass”, which carried the road along its present route, was held in July, 1957, the old route was choked with traffic until the bypass was completed until early 1964.

March, 2010 closure of Highway One 37 miles north of San Simeon

Ever since the road was opened there has been a constant struggle to keep it open. Hardly a year goes by without some sort of slide, slip out or other damage causing a temporary closure of the road. Since 1950 there have been at least ten closures lasting a month or more, all in Monterey County. In December, 1955, for example, a massive flood occurred at Partington Point about nine miles south of Big Sur which closed the road for eight months. The worst year for road damage was clearly 1983 when there were three simultaneous long-term closures. A mudslide and washout in March closed the road for two months about 10 miles north of Big Sur, a slide in January at Sycamore Draw, about eight miles south of Big Sur closed the road there for eight months and mud slides in March at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park closed Highway One for nearly a year. This last event was described by Gene Berthelsea of Caltrans as “…the gargantuan Pfeiffer Burns slide, which closed the highway for 11 months in 1983/1984 while an armada of bulldozers from all around the county moved 6 million tons of dirt to clear the road.” When the road was re-opened after this extended closure on April 11, 1984, a celebration was held at the site complete with a 300 pound, 50 foot ribbon cake created by Kathe Tanner, owner of Upper Crust Bakery and Catering. In the spring of 2011 a series of landslides and slipouts caused the highway to be closed for nearly three months.

In 1960, a movement was begun to recognize some of the state’s most scenic byways and identify them as a part of a “scenic highway” program. In June, 1965, State Route 1 between the Carmel River and the San Luis Obispo County Line was designated as the state’s first official scenic highway. The following year Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson came to California for the official designation ceremony, held at Bixby Bridge. She traveled the length of the route, spending one night in Big Sur as a guest of Nathaniel and Margaret Owings, and the following evening at Hearst Castle.

As the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the highway approached in 1987, a committee, led by Kathe Tanner, began planning an anniversary celebration. On October 10, 1987 the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of Highway One was celebrated at Hearst Memorial State Park near San Simeon. Guests included San  Luis Obispo County Supervisor for District 2, Bill Coy; Congressman Leon  Panetta; State Assemblyman Eric Seastrand; President of the  Monterey County Board of Supervisors, Karin Strasser Kauffman; Chairman of the San Luis Obispo County Supervisors, Carl Hysen; and Deputy Director of Public Affairs for Caltrans, William Ihle. Kathe and Richard Tanner, owners of the Upper Crust Bakery, created, transported and assembled a ten-tiered, 550 pound birthday cake. The cake was cut by a Cambria couple, Lloyd and Fay Junge who were married on the day the highway was first opened, June 27, 1937.  Lloyd Junge drove a gasoline truck and made deliveries to the construction crews during the building of the highway.

The completion of the highway from Carmel to San Simeon brought an end to the unique way of life that had existed in the Big Sur area for nearly one hundred years. The original serpentine wagon road built by the settlers was abandoned as was the trail that ran through the mountains from the end of the wagon road all the way to San Simeon, connecting the Post Ranch to Hearst Castle. Little by little, modern society intruded on the area and, by the 1950s, most of the remaining ranch houses had running water, butane gas and modern plumbing and the jeep was supplanting the horse. Electricity reached Big Sur in 1949 and, within two years, most of the residents were connected to it. By 1956, direct dial phone service was available.

In the words of Big Sur native Rosalind Sharpe Wall, “Although the highway has brought the outside world into the Sur, it has, at the same time, served to veil it further; for in wagon-road days one wandered in and out of every redwood canyon on the long, all-day trip from Carmel to Big Sur. One had a chance to get the feeling of the place. The highway, on the other hand, keeps to the spectacular sea-cliffs and the hidden, mysterious world that was once the heart of the Sur Coast has become invisible.”

One Response to “Highway One Modern History”

  1. B&J says:

    On September 27, 2012, the second paragraph of this article was revised to reflect the newly discovered fact that the “Cambria Bypass” was in the planning stages well before Hearst Castle was opened to the public.


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