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Old US Route 99 through Tipton, Tulare, and Tagus Ranch

This summer I had a look into the alignment history of US Route 99 through the Tulare County communities of; Tipton, Tulare, and Tagus Ranch.  While this slab below might seem like much it is one of the few remaining reminders of how US Route 99 was during the 1920s in Tulare County.



Part 1; the history of US Route 99 in Tipton, Tulare, and Tagus Ranch

Tipton and Tulare were both founded in 1872 as sidings of the Southern Pacific Railroad.  The Southern Pacific Railroad laid the groundwork for development of southern San Joaquin Valley.  Previous to the Southern Pacific Railroad travel via wagon or foot in Central California tended to avoid San Joaquin Valley in favor of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road.  The Stockton Los Angeles Road lied to the east of San Joaquin Valley in the Sierra Nevada Foothills and was less subject flooding.  Before the Southern Pacific Railroad most of San Joaquin Valley was a sparsely inhabited wetland which made travel by road difficult.  Tipton and Tulare can be seen near the eastern shore of Tulare Lake along the Southern Pacific Railroad on the 1873 Oregon, California, & Nevada Railroad Map


The Southern Pacific Railroad also laid out a road network which served as a frontage facility.  The ease of using the Southern Pacific in addition to it's frontage road rendered the Stockton-Los Angeles Road functionally obsolete to anything other than localized travel.  As the 19th Century gave way to the 20th Century the age of the automobile began.  The emergence of the automobile led to the 1909 First State Highway Bond Act which was approved by voters during 1910.  The majority of the highways approved as part of the First State Highway Bond Act were largely well established routes of travel.  In the case of Tipton and Tulare it was along the path of what would become Legislative Route 4 ("LRN 4").  According to CAhighways.org the original definition of LRN 4 was "Sacramento to Los Angeles."

Within San Joaquin Valley much of LRN 4 incorporated what was the Southern Pacific Railroad frontage roads.  A very early LRN 4 in through Tipton and Tulare can be seen on the 1917 California State Automobile Association Map.


The original alignment of LRN 4 from Tipton through Tulare was as follows:

-  Burnett Road in Tipton north to Road 164.
-  Road 164 west over the Southern Pacific Railroad to Road 112.
-  Road 112 north to Bardsley Avenue in Tulare.
-  Bardsley Avenue east over the Southern Pacific Railroad to K Street.
-  K Street north into downtown Tulare to Inyo Avenue.

The original alignment of LRN 4 was not routed through Tagus Ranch en route north to Goshen but rather Visalia.  LRN 4 utilized the following route from downtown Tulare to reach the City of Visalia:

-  Inyo Avenue east to M Street.
-  North on M Street to Tulare Avenue.
-  Tulare Avenue east to Mooney Boulevard.
-  Mooney Boulevard north into Visalia.

The original alignment of LRN 4 by way of Tipton, Tulare, and Visalia to Goshen can be seen on the 1924 Division of Highways State Map.


Tagus Ranch was established during 1912 by Hulett C. Merritt.  Tagus Ranch for a time was the largest fruit ranch in the world and was as large as 7,000 acres.  Tagus Ranch carried considerable political clout which seems to have been main driver of why LRN 4 shifted east to Visalia according to Scott Parker of the AAroads Forum.

An easement through Tagus Ranch to the Division of Highways seems to have been granted at some point during 1924.   The June 1924 California Highways & Public Works shows photos of a new alignment of LRN 4 from a maintenance station.  The maintenance station signage clearly shows that LRN 4 was now aligned through Tagus Ranch directly to Goshen. 



The new alignment of LRN 4 from downtown Tulare to Goshen via Tagus Ranch was as follows:

-  Inyo Avenue west from K Street to J Street.
-  J Street north to Tagus Ranch following eastern flank of the Southern Pacific Railroad.
-  From Tagus Ranch a road following the eastern flank of the Southern Pacific Railroad to Camp Drive in Goshen.

The new alignment of LRN 4 between Tulare and Goshen can be seen on the 1926 Division of Highways State Map.


The new alignment of LRN 4 also appears on the 1924 Rand McNally Highway Map of California.  Notably LRN 4 through Tipton, Tulare, and Tagus Ranch is shown to be part of the National Park-to-Park Highway. 



During November of 1926 the US Route System was approved by the AASHO.  US Route 99 was aligned over the entirety of LRN 4 between Los Angeles north to Sacramento thus making it the signed highway through Tipton, Tulare, and Tagus Ranch.  Note; the original route of LRN 4 in the planning phases of US Route System had US Route 99 aligned to Visalia.  More regarding the planned route of US Route 99 from Tulare north to Visalia can be found here:

US Route 99 to Visalia

By 1932 US Route 99/LRN 4 through Tipton, Tulare, and Tagus Ranch was still on the same alignment as it had been since 1924 which included two at-grade crossings of the Southern Pacific Railroad.  The alignment of US Route 99/LRN 4 can be seen on the 1932 Division of Highways State Map.


US Route 99/LRN 4 was realigned to the eastern side of the Southern Pacific Railroad during 1932 as announced in the June 1932 California Highways & Public Works.


From Tipton US Route 99/LRN 4 after being realigned in 1932 utilized the following route:

-  Burnett Road north to what is now the southbound lanes of the Golden State Freeway.
-  The present southbound lanes of the Golden State Freeway to K Street.
-  K Street north to Inyo Avenue in downtown Tulare. 

The new alignment of US Route 99/LRN 4 east of the Southern Pacific Railroad from Tipton north to Tulare can be seen on the 1935 Division of Highways Map of Tulare County.


The jog in K Street to J Street appears on the 1943 Topographical Map of Tulare on historicaerials.com.  It appears that the contract to construct the jog in K Street to J Street was awarded in late 1939 according to the November 1939 California Highways & Public Works.


The expansion of US Route 99/LRN 4 in Tipton, Tulare, and Tagus Ranch is discussed in the September/October 1948 California Highways & Public Works.  The article discusses contracts being sought for the expansion  of 5 miles of US Route 99 between Tagus Ranch-Goshen and 7.9 miles between Tipton-Tulare Airport to four lanes.


The July/August 1949 California Highways & Public Works shows Tipton-Tulare Airport expansion of US Route 99/LRN 4 contract awarded to N.M. Balls Sons of Berkeley. 


The September/October 1949 California Highways & Public Works cites that an expansion of US Route 99 from Tulare Airport to Tagus Ranch was funded for Fiscal Year July 1950-July 1951. 



The May/June 1951 California Highways & Public Works cites the expansion of US Route 99/LRN 4 between Tipton and Tulare Airport as moving extremely quickly during 1950 in regards to cement production.


The January/February 1954 California Highways & Public Works covers the opening of the Tulare Bypass realignment of US Route 99/LRN 4 as a feature story.  The Tulare Bypass opening ceremony is cited to have taken place on December 11th, 1953.











The September/October 1958 California Highways & Public Works cites the Tulare Bypass route of US Route 99/LRN 4 as fully opening in 1954.  The Tulare Bypass is cited to have been the first full freeway grade completed in Division of Highways District 6.


The November/December 1959 California Highways & Public Works cites that 13.3 miles of US Route 99/LRN 4 originating in Pixley by way of Tipton to Tulare Airport was funded for an expressway to freeway conversion in the 1960-61 State Highway Budget. 



The Pixley, Tipton, and Tulare Airport freeway upgrade of US Route 99/LRN 4 is discussed in the January/February 1963 California Highways & Public Works.  The freeway project is cited to have begun in May of 1961 and completed during November 1962.









During the 1964 Highway Renumbering all the Legislative Routes were dropped.  US Route 99 appears as a stand alone highway through Tipton, Tulare, and Tagus Ranch on the 1964 Division of Highways State Map.


What is now the Phillip S. Raine Safety Rest Area is shown to be under construction 5 miles north of Tipton along US Route 99 in July/August 1965 California Highways & Public Works.


US Route 99 is shown to be replaced with California State Route 99 on the 1969 Division of Highways Map.


The completed freeway alignment of California State Route 99 with Interstate 5 south from Wheeler Ridge to Los Angeles is now known as the Golden State Freeway.  More on the Golden State Freeway as it pertains to California State Route 99 can be found below:

CA 99/Old US 99 Golden State Freeway Part 1

CA 99/Old US 99 Golden State Freeway Part 2


Part 2; mapping Old US Route 99 in Tipton, Tulare, and Tagus Ranch

The below maps were custom drawn based off the information above to graphically depict the surface alignments of US Route 99 in Tipton, Tulare, and Tagus Ranch.  The original alignment of Legislative Route 4 is referenced for historical clarity.








Part 3; a drive on former US Route 99 on Burnett Road in Tipton

Our drive on the original alignment of US Route 99 in Tipton begins on Avenue 144 eastbound approaching Burnett Road.  Avenue 144 east of Burnett Road carries CA 190 beginning in the center of the Golden State Freeway overpass towards Porterville. 




Former US Route 99 on Burnnett Road northward passes the southbound Golden State Freeway ramp for Exit 76.


Former US Route 99 on Burnett Road continues north through Tipton amid a landscape which has an obvious origin as a rail siding facility.  Burnett Road approaching Olive Street has a southbound ramp to the Golden State Freeway, northbound traffic is directed to take Olive Street.









Former US Route 99 on Burnett Road continues north of Olive Street where it dead ends at the southbound lane of the Golden State Freeway.









Part 4; the former US Route 99 crossing of the Southern Pacific Railroad at Avenue 164

Most of the original railroad crossing which were part of early Legislative Route 4 and US Route 99 were razed as they were replaced.  That said, the former crossing on what would have been Avenue 164 still partially remains in the form of a slab of concrete road deck.  This slab of former US Route 99 can be found between Road 112 and the Southern Pacific Railroad facing directly east at Avenue 164.



Part 5; a drive on the post-1932 alignment of US Route 99 in Tulare

From the Golden State Freeway northbound the post-1932 alignment of US Route 99 can be accessed from Exit 83 which transitions to K Street









The post-1932 alignment of US Route 99 follows K Street towards downtown Tulare where it meets it's original alignment at Bardsley Avenue.













Approaching downtown Tulare the former alignment of US Route 99 transitions from K Street onto J Street.  As noted above the jog in K Street to J Street was likely constructed circa 1939-1940.  Former US Route 99 intersects California State Route 137 at Inyo Avenue.








From northbound J Street approaching Tulare Avenue a Southern Pacific Railroad mural can be seen.  Tulare was the headquarters for the Southern Pacific Railroad from 1872 through it's incorporation as a City during 1888.  In 1891 the Southern Pacific Railroad relocated it's headquarters to Bakersfield which led to a shift towards agriculture in Tulare.




Former US Route 99 followed J Street north to the present location of the Golden State Freeway at Exit 91.  Interestingly J Street traffic transitioning to the northbound Golden State Freeway utilizes a left hand entrance. 




















Part 6; Tagus Ranch

The site of what was Tagus Ranch can be accessed from the Golden State Freeway via Exit 92.




On Road 94 the location of what was Tagus Ranch Restaurant and Motel can be found in the form of what is now the 99 Palms Inn.






The Tagus Ranch Restaurant opened in 1950 during the heyday of US Route 99.  The Tagus Ranch Restaurant apparently survived a fire in 1958 which was followed by the Tagus Ranch Motel opening in 1962.  By 1966 the last remaining acreage of Tagus Ranch was sold off which was followed by the Tagus Ranch Restaurant burning again in 1969.   The Tagus Ranch Restaurant was again rebuilt and changed hands numerous times over the decades before being condemned in 2014.  The Tagus Ranch Motel eventually became the 99 Palms Inn which still operates today.  The 99 Palms Inn was selected as location to house homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.  More regarding the Tagus Ranch Motel and Restaurant can be found on neverquitelost.com.

neverquitelost.com on Tagus Ranch

The below postcard photos of the Tagus Ranch Motel and Restaurant were sourced from the Tulare County History Facebook Group.




The location of what was the Tagus Ranch public scale can be found west of the Golden State Freeway at the end of Road 92.  Road 92 ends near the Tagus Ranch scale but it is just out of view.




The Tagus Ranch scale can be seen from the southbound Golden State Freeway lanes as shown in this Google Street View image.


A up close image of the Tagus Ranch scale can be found the Antique Images from Collection of Michael J. Semas Facebook page.  Although there wasn't a "no trespassing" sign at the end of Road 92 I wouldn't advise driving onto what is likely restricted private property without permission. 

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