Freeway Debates & Historic Preservation 1950’s – 1970’s

First published August 11, 2018

Once the minerals were exhausted, many hastily built mining towns were abandoned. Grass Valley and Nevada City persisted after the Gold Rush because San Francisco investors gambled on hard rock mining, water rights, and power generation.

Large cattle ranches had become established. Lumber mills continued to operate, supplying timber for the railroad (mid-1860’s through 1870’s).  Railroads moved goods and people between coasts.

The age of the automobile, beginning in the early 1900’s, led to road development. By the end of WWII, in the 1940’s, travel and outdoor recreation had become a trend that middle-class America embraced.

1950: Freeway Proposal

Traffic problems between Nevada City and Grass Valley were documented by the California Division of Highways. Logging trucks jammed narrow roads. Some residents remember it taking between 30-45 minutes to drive between towns, a distance of 4.2 miles.

1951: Choosing Sides – Historical Preservation vs. Commerce Development

If there was a historic rivalry before, the coming of the freeway strengthened it. Folks were divided about where the road should go. Some merchants thought that downtown offramps would stimulate business while others lamented about the loss of historic buildings.

1960’s: Freeway Construction Begins

In the early 1960’s right-of-ways had been obtained, structures were removed and dirt work commenced. When the building contractor declared bankruptcy, it took the Highway Department nearly a year to secure a replacement.

Nevada City residents, disturbed by the altered landscape, called the Broad Street area a ‘Calamity Cut.’

Courtesy Searles Library

1965:  Beryl Robinson came in as Nevada City Manager. Downtown was in trouble. He inherited ‘a mess.’

Nov. 15, 1966. Unfinished bridge on the Broad Street freeway crossing collapses. Eleven men injured, no fatalities. Photo courtesy Searles Library.

1968: The controversy and upset over the freeway project may have garnered public support for Nevada City Historical Ordinance 338, written by Bill Wetherall, Nevada City’s Attorney. (The ordinance governs preservation of Mother Lode architecture. It was the first one written in the State of California.)

 

“Nevada City’s future is in the preservation of its past,”

is a quote from former City Council member and mayor, Bob Paine, that hung in City Hall for many years during that time.

1969: Freeway is Complete

In December, twenty-two two years after the first traffic survey, the Golden Center Freeway opened for traffic.

City Freeway Expenditures
$7,000,000 spent by the City of Grass Valley
$5,000,000 spent by the City of Nevada City

1972Nevada City received a grant to move utilities underground. Gaslights were installed. Neon signs removed.

Page 16 from Nevada City building Design Guidelines

Thanks to keen observers, county civic organizations, and city leaders the historic Mother Lode charm of Grass Valley and Nevada City remains. Since their beginnings, the towns along the Deer Creek watershed have been community gathering places, a hub of entertainment and a place to enjoy nature.

Nevada City’s Mission Statement – The City of Nevada City is dedicated to preserving and enhancing its small-town character and historical architecture while providing quality public services for our current and future residents, businesses, and visitors.

Grass Valley Mission Statement – The City of Grass Valley’s Public Works Department is committed to providing essential municipal infrastructure maintenance and improvement services that preserve and enhance the quality of life in our community for residents, businesses and visitors alike, while providing a safe and productive work environment for Department employees.

Moving forward, if lessons learned are heeded, the area will continue to thrive while remembering and honoring its past.

 

If you liked this post, check out Anthony House and Penn Valley Under Lake Wildwood and Development of Lake Wildwood & Current Events.

 

Resources:

City of Grass Valley 2020 General Plan

City of Grass Valley – Tree Removal Application

City of Grass Valley Departments

2005: Grass Valley Tree OrdinanceChapter 12.36 of the Municipal Code Ensures that community trees are protected and managed to ensure civic benefits.

Historical Effects of Logging on the forests of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada Ranges of California (1990) [PDF]

Nevada City Building Design Guidelines – Sept. 1995 [PDF] (numerous historic building photos)

Nevada City – Housing element 2014-2019 [PDF]
The focus on preservation of a strong sense of community, coupled with geographic, topographic, and infrastructure constraints has limited growth to a slow, manageable pace.

Nevada City Ordinance 338 [PDF] – Establishment of a historical district and regulations for protection, enhancement, and perpetuation of buildings

Nevada County Demographic Report 2016-2017

Nevada County Historical Society

Nevada County Historical Society YouTube Channel (Interviews with multi-generational 
families who grew up in Grass Valley and Nevada City – 1940’s through 1960’s.)

The Union – The tale of a freeway that divided two cities – 2/22/03

The Union – Golden Center Freeway a reality; Grass Valley portion done – 3/8/03

The Union – For some, Golden Center Freeway was a ‘Calamity Cut – 4/20/10

The Union – Development plans may help Nevada City meet its housing needs – 01/04/18

Wikipedia – Nevada City Downtown Historic District

Leave a Reply