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The Glendale Freeway Will Transport You to a Poetic Los Angeles


You don't so much drive north on the Glendale Freeway as you are borne away upon it. Up and out of the urban crawl, between the shoulders of Silver Lake, toward the bristling brown Verdugo Hills. Topped with the cross-bearing fortress of Forest Lawn, the hills of southern Glendale rise, layered with roofs and walls and two-car garages. Signs mark the approaching 134, and for a few moments the freeway slices between Glendale and Eagle Rock, ducking under the concrete swoops of the overpass. Then the climb becomes more noticeable; the Glendale skyline falls away, replaced with slopes tawny and rumpled like the hide of a sleeping feline. Here and there the landscape is rimmed with the sparkling back windows of half-million-dollar homes; a street of them here on this crest, or surging against that rise, like streaks of rose quartz in dark marble.

But mostly there is only sun and answering shadows, stretched against hillsides, splattered among the rocks, pooled in the hollows barely seen. The road itself is wide and white and nearly empty. It is hard to believe that downtown Los Angeles lays less than 10 miles away.

Then, a mile passes, two, and it's the end of that particular road. Another set of signs appears, offering a choice--merge with the 210, which burrows even further into the scoured hills, or get off on Foothill Boulevard. Turn around and drive south, and the purpose of this freeway is clear--a short, scenic slide toward the L.A. skyline, which rises through the haze like the Emerald City.

The Glendale Freeway, or the 2, is a portion of Route 2, a jumble of streets that traverse 87 miles of the Los Angeles area, from the Pacific Coast Highway to the 138 in the Angeles National Forest. The nine miles that stretch from the Tommy Lasorda Field of Dreams in Los Angeles to Foothill Boulevard in La Canada Flintridge is the only freeway portion of the route. It was built in 1976 to serve the denizens of the hill communities. It is not a perfect freeway--during morning rush hour, the exit lanes to the 134 and the 5 slow to a crawl, and traveling south, there is inevitably a bottleneck at the freeway's end. Here four lanes shrink to two, which then must merge with Glendale Boulevard--a seemingly impossible feat that nonetheless occurs daily, providing an almost perfect visual metaphor for Los Angeles itself.

But at most times on most days, and especially on the weekends, the 2 is the nicest freeway drive in the area. Zipping along through the hills, with the big city in your eyes or at your back, one can imagine what travel was like in Los Angeles when the freeways were new, commuters full of wonder and hope, in the years before billboards for cell phone kings and lap dance queens lined every thoroughfare, when the builders of the 110 intentionally put curves in the road to prevent motorists from becoming bored.

For a few miles on the 2, the freeway becomes the line between nature and civilization; the hills peer into the windows as you drive, shrub-filigreed reminders of the time before roads. A time when travelers accommodated the vagaries of the earth, rather than beating and blasting it into submission. Photos from early freeway construction show men and old Fords paused at the edge of a scraped-smooth dirt road that one day will be PCH. Boulders crowd close, and the hill seems barely interrupted by this crude terrace. The cars, the men in their dark suits and hats, seem proud and out of place, as if they'd discovered something. A waterfall. A diamond mine.

Which, in a way, they had. They had discovered speed. And ease. And transience. And safety. They had discovered modern life.

There are no such pictures of the Glendale Freeway, which was built in 1976. Statistically, it has no distinction--it is not the newest (that would be the 105) nor is it the shortest (that would be the Marina Freeway, at 1.38 miles). But it does have an air of privilege about it. Flying above and beyond the raging corridors of its more powerful peers, it's as if you'd been given a VIP driving pass, or access to the Club Room. That it ends in La Canada Flintridge is not surprising. People say they move there for the schools, but I suspect the 2 has something to do with it.


Mary McNamara can be reached at

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