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60-SECOND APPRAISAL | SO SoCal

The Four Level

June 29, 1997|Sue McAllister

In 1947, engineer A.M. Nash of the California Division of Highways revealed plans for the world's first "four-level grade separation." Since its completion in 1953, the artful nexus of the 101 (Hollywood) and 110 (Harbor and Pasadena) freeways has been known as the Four Level or, less frequently, the Stack. An average of 467,000 cars per day pass through its 17 miles of tiers.

Level One handles transitions from the 110 to the 101, and it is here drivers can sense the sublime scope of the structure, designated a landmark by the L.A. chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Northbound commuters dip momentarily into a dark pit nearly guaranteed to be bottle-necked, glance up at the claustrophobic spectacle of three dark-gray spans overhead and occasionally smell the traces of the sulfurous spring that once gurgled here.

Level Two--the north- and southbound lanes of the 110--is a bit of a bore in comparison. On Level Three, my favorite, as a broad curve connects the 101 north to the 110 south, the top deck seems close enough to touch through the sunroof, and openings with mod, rounded corners between the lanes above let hazy chunks of sunlight in. Retrofitting equipment currently mars the elegant sweep of the Hollywood Freeway on Level Four, but on the southbound side the view of downtown makes up for it.

While Caltrans replaces metal guardrails with new concrete, and retrofitting work stretches into the indefinite future, the Four Level continues spinning traffic in eight different directions, each with its own particular ambience.

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