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Hunting for forgotten history; Old US 99 in Fresno

Coming back from my Great Lakes Trip the other day I encountered this signage error at Fresno-Yosemite International Airport which incorrectly displays US Route 99.


That little US 99 sign was the inspiration I needed to start tracking all the former alignments through the City of Fresno.  Fresno in general has had a huge shift in highway layouts over the decades which is something I intend to finish with California 41 and 180 perhaps later this month.  Based off my research I came with the following three maps progressing northward through Fresno showing every iteration of US 99 before it was downgraded to a State Highway in 1967.




Essentially the route alignment history of US Route 99 in Fresno is as follows.

1926-1930 Alignment 

Progressing northward into Fresno US Route 99 would have followed:

Railroad Avenue
-  Cherry Avenue
-  Broadway Street
-  Divisadero Street
-  H Street
-  Belmont Avenue
-  Golden State Avenue

1930-1934 Realignment off of Railroad Avenue

Sometime between 1930 to 1934 US Route 99 was realigned off of Railroad Avenue at Church Avenue.  From Church Avenue US Route 99 progressed to Hazel which is now G Street and followed it to Cherry Avenue.

1946-1948 Larger realignment off of Railroad Avenue

Sometime between 1946-1948 US Route 99 was realigned further southward off of Railroad Avenue onto G Street.  G Street partially became the later Golden State Boulevard expressway.  


1950 Realignment off of Cherry Avenue

By 1950 US Route 99 had been extended further north into Fresno away from Cherry Avenue on G Street and took a roadway that is located roughly where the California 41 freeway is to Broadway Street.  I can't find any documentation showing what the name of the street connecting G Street and Broadway Street was since it has long been built over.


1958 The downtown freeway is built 

By 1958 the new (and current) freeway alignment of US Route 99 through downtown Fresno was completed.  G Street was likely replaced at this time by Golden State Boulevard as an expressway on the south side of the city which connected to the new freeway.


1964 Golden State Boulevard is replaced


By 1964 US Route 99 was shifted onto a new freeway alignment on the south side of Fresno off of Golden State Boulevard.  US Route 99 was renumbered as California State Route 99 in 1967 due to Interstate 5 being built in the western stretches of San Joaquin Valley.

Of course map research isn't any fun without the actual maps I used to look at.

1930 California State Highway Map City Insert

1934 California State Highway Map City Insert

1938 California State Highway Map City Insert

1946 California State Highway Map City Insert

1948 California State Highway Map City Insert

1949 California State Highway Map City Insert

1950 California State Highway Map City Insert

1957 California State Highway Map City Insert

1958 California State Highway Map City Insert

1963 California State Highway Map City Insert

1964 California State Highway Map City Insert

1967 California State Highway Map

But really no amount of map research about historic alignments is complete without actually trying to drive a replicated route.  My goal was to drive as much of the original 1926 alignment of US Route 99 in Fresno as I could.  I just so happened to be a little further south in Fresno County so I took as much of what was US Route 99  north into the city of Fresno as I could.  I started in Kingsburg where Simpson Street which was once part of US Route 99 now dead-ends at a cold storage facility.



Simpson Street is divided in Kingsburg, I would imagine at some point there was four-lanes of traffic instead of two.   Given the now generous parking areas I was able to pull over and get a good picture of the Kingsburg Railroad Depot which was built in 1902.



The Kingsburg Railroad Depot was recently restored and the museum housed inside has a historic page.

Kingsburg Railroad Depot History

North of Sierra Street/California 201 is where Simpson Street blows out to an expressway, I believe it becomes officially signed as Golden State Boulevard at Stroud Avenue.



Northward entering the city of Selma US Route 99 would have used Whitson Street through the city.  I'm almost certain that US Route 99 ran on an earlier alignment through Selma on West Front Street which connects to Whitson at both the south and north side of the city.



North of Selma the expressway opens up and again becomes Golden State Boulevard which remains as such all the way into Fresno.


Golden State Boulevard bisects the city of Fowler as the main drag through town.  Fowler has some interesting industrial buildings to look at from the northbound lanes, I'm to understand this old warehouse is still occupied by a company called FDS Manufacturing.



Between Fowler and the city limits of Fresno there are some interesting overpasses above Golden State Boulevard.  The first overpass is Clovis Avenue while the second is Central Avenue.



Golden State Boulevard uses an overpass of North Avenue which is the city limit of Fresno.



The original alignment of US Route 99 through Fresno starts with a soft right off Golden State Boulevard onto Railroad Avenue.



Church Avenue is the location of the 1930-1934 realignment I cited above.  At some point US Route 99 would have been shifted onto west Church Avenue to continue north on G Street.  The original US Route 99 alignment continued directly north on Railroad Avenue ahead in the picture.


Ahead at the advisory sign is Cherry Avenue.   In the original alignment of US Route 99 traffic would have taken a right turn onto Cherry over the railroad tracks.  The 1930-1934 realignment also used Cherry but would have come in from the left.


Cherry Avenue no longer is continuous and is cut off by the railroad.  You can almost see how the original US Route 99 would have entered downtown Fresno looking at the roadway ahead of the fence line.


Looking back southward on Railroad Avenue from Cherry Avenue it is apparent how much the neighborhood and infrastructure has decayed.  I'm to understand this particular neighborhood of Fresno is known as the Warehouse District, there is evidence of much better times with derelict street lamp posts and abandoned buildings.





To continue on Cherry north of the railroad tracks I had to backtrack on Railroad Avenue to cross at Van Ness Avenue which passes the Van Ness Avenue Welcome Arch.  The current Van Ness Avenue Welcome Arch was constructed in 1929 which replaced an earlier arch.  The Arch was meant to attract travels into downtown Fresno but largely has fallen into neglect after receiving one restoration in the late 20th century.  The High Speed Rail construction is slated to cut-off access across the tracks on Van Ness Avenue which makes the future of the Arch uncertain.  I've heard rumors talking about the Arch being moved to Fulton Street when it reopens to traffic in October but nothing I can confirm.


Once I returned to Cherry Avenue I took it to Broadway Street passing a couple more tracks in the process.




Broadway Street continues under the California 41 freeway where the 1950 realignment of US Route 99 would have met it.  The older route has longer since disappeared and has been replaced by the 41 freeway.



In the 1930s at the intersection of Broadway Street and Ventura Avenue US Route 99 would have picked up California 180 which multiplexed it to Fresno Street.  Broadway Street continued through downtown Fresno and would have picked up California 41 from Fresno Street to Stanislaus Street.  Unfortunately Broadway Street can no longer can used as a through route between Inyo Street and Stanislaus Street because it has been sectioned up for downtown plazas or was razed completely by Chukchansi Park.   Chukchansi Park was completed in 2002 and was intended to be part of a revitalization project of downtown Fresno.

It seems the city of Fresno thought it was a good idea after US Route 99 became a freeway to butcher the downtown street grid as Fulton Street met a similar fate as Broadway but much earlier in the Mid-20th century.  As I stated above, Fulton Street is set to reopen but it appears Broadway Street will never be a thru-street ever again.  Kind of sad to think that a city the size of Fresno thought so little about it's own history that it literally sacrificed it for shopping and a minor league stadium named after a second-tier casino, but that's just my opinion.  At least the city of Fresno seems to be trying to make downtown a desirable place to be again with the Fulton Street project.






Edit 06/22/18:  I attended a Fresno Grizzles game at Chuckchansi Park and took a couple photos to illustrate where US 99 would have been relative to where the field is now.  The first view is looking south towards Inyo Street while the second is looking north at Tulare Street.



Edit 04/12/18:  I happened to be in downtown Fresno this morning.  That being the case I happened to stop by the isolated part of Broadway Street north of Chukchansi Park which can still be accessed from Mariposa Street to Fresno Street..


From Mariposa Street northward Broadway Street continues to Fresno Street.  Broadway Street has another gap from Fresno Street to Tuolumne Street which has been converted into a parking facility below the Hotel Fresno.  The 1948 Crest Theatre can be seen at the southeast corner of Broadway Street and Fresno Street.  There is even a oversized California State Route 99 shield directing traffic to the modern freeway to the west.  I believe this is the only "99"  shield of any kind left on the original US 99 alignment in Fresno.




The Hotel Fresno is the oldest existing hotel in Fresno which originally opened back in 1913 at what was the corner of Broadway Street and Merced Street.  The Hotel Fresno has a vintage Art Deco design and remains one of the more unique buildings in the city despite it being closed since 1983.  I took this picture from H Street overlooking the hotel marque which is still displayed at the top of the hotel building.  As of writing this new section of this blog the Hotel Fresno had a recent hearing to be adding to the National Register of Historic Places.  I'm not sure what the outcome was given that NPS.gov hasn't made any updates for April 2018.


Downtownfresnoblog.com has an extensive article on the history of the Hotel Fresno.

Downtownfresnoblog.com on Hotel Fresno


After zig-zagging over to Van Ness Avenue I rejoined Broadway Street at Stanislaus Street to continue north on the original US Route 99.  Stanislaus Street would have been where California 41 would have original met US Route 99 as stated previously.  In addition the bridge ahead to the west would have carried southbound 41 traffic along with westbound California 180 traffic when the highways were realigned.


US Route 99 would have used Broadway Street north to Divisadero Street where it turned left.




US Route 99 made a quick right turn to continue northward through the city of Fresno onto H Street.


US Route 99 would have followed H Street under the modern California 180 freeway to Belmont Avenue where it turned left.



US Route 99 likely went under these Southern Pacific Rail Bridges before turning right onto what is now Golden State Boulevard.  There is a traffic circle at Golden State Boulevard which certainly wasn't original to US Route 99.

Edit 10/10/17:  My assumption was proven somehwat wrong, the traffic circle on Belmont was among the first in the state of California and dates back to 1932.  A special thanks to Andy and Sparker from AAroads for tracking down the information in the library of Congress in addition to providing essential local lore.

Belmont Traffic Circle Converstation on AAroads

Library of Congress Documentation on Belmont Avenue Subway and Traffic Circle




Edit 04/01/18:  On the northwest corner of the Belmont Traffic circle is Roeding Park and Fresno Chaffee Zoo.  Fresno Chaffee Zoo apparently has origins dating back to as early as 1907 when abandoned exotic pets were housed on the grounds.  The Roeding Park Zoo is officially recognized by the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums as opening in 1929.  Apparently close to one million visitors enter Chaffee Zoo every year.  I stopped in at Fresno Chaffee for a couple hours on Easter to view some of the animal displays.






I want to say that Golden State Boulevard north of Belmont Avenue was once known also as Railroad Avenue, at least in the city limits of Fresno.  US Route 99 would have continued north out of Fresno roughly to where Golden State Boulevard meets the California 99 freeway today.  The High Speed Rail is resulting in the California 99 freeway being shifted westward and I don't know what that bodes for the previous alignments of US Route 99.  Either way I figured it was time to get out and see much of the original alignment of US Route 99 before it is either razed or becomes inaccessible.  With that I made my way through the construction and jumped on the California 99 freeway to close the day out.






Comments

Anonymous said…
Thanks for posting this. What Fresno is doing to it's past is an abomination.
I don't live there anymore - thank God.
The high speed rail will destroy more historic roads and buildings.
So sad, - again, thanks for the documentation.

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