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The Midway Palm and Pine of US Route 99


Along modern day California State Route 99 south of Avenue 11 just outside the City limits of Madera one can find the Midway Palm and Pine in the center median of the freeway.  The Midway Palm and Pine denotes the halfway point between the Mexican Border and Oregon State Line on what was US Route 99.  The Midway Palm is intended to represent Southern California whereas the Midway Pine is intended to represent Northern California.  Pictured above the Midway Palm and Pine can be seen from the northbound lanes of the California State Route 99 Freeway.  




The history of the Midway Palm and Pine

The true timeframe for when the Midway Palm and Pine (originally a Deadora Cedar Tree) were planted is unknown.  In fact the origin of the Midway Palm and Pine was referenced in California's Gold Episode #608 during which Huell Howser examined numerous points claimed to be the Center of California.  During Episode #608 Huell Howser interviews Caltrans employee Bob Thompson who emphasizes there was no agency record regarding when the Midway Palm and Pine were planted.  Thompson goes as far to state that it wasn't fully clear if the Midway Palm and Pine were originally meant to represent the midway point of US Route 99 through California or the location of the trees was a coincidence.  

The Midway Palm and Pine (note; the original "Pine" was much taller than the Palm tree) as seen in California's Gold Episode 608:


California's Gold Episode 608 can be seen on full on the Huell Howser Archives hosted by Chapman University.  

I examined the California Highways & Public Works volumes which were published from 1924 through 1967 for clues to the origin of the Midway Palm and Pine.  While not overtly stated a possible clue to the origin of the Midway Palm and Pine can be found in the April 1928 California Highways & Public Works.  During said volume a contract to rebuild and pave 6.5 miles of US Route 99 (then part of Legislative Route Number 4) south of Madera is stated as having been recently advertised.   

The May/June 1928 California Highways & Public Works notes Callahan Construction was awarded the contract to rebuild/pave 6.5 miles of US Route 99 from Arcola School south towards Herndon at the San Joaquin River.   


Note; the original Arcola School referenced in the May/June 1928 California Highways & Public Works was located on the outskirts of the Southern Pacific Railroad siding of Borden immediately south of Avenue 12.  The Arcola School can be seen immediately south of Avenue 12 near Cottonwood Creek on the 1914 Official Map of Madera County


The July/August 1928 California Highways & Public Works notes the rebuilding and paving of US Route 99 from Arcola School south to Herndon was expected to be completed by July 25th.  While not outright stated many early projects by the California Division of Highways in San Joaquin often included planting trees to line major highways such as US Route 99.  


The completed segment of US Route 99 between Herndon and Arcola School can be seen after receiving center striping in the January/February 1929 California Highways & Public Works.  The photo below is facing northbound from which a significant amount of plants can be seen alongside the southbound lanes of US Route 99.  In time the then two lanes of US Route 99 would be upgraded to the modern northbound lanes of the present freeway.  


Notably the 1935 Division of Highways Map of Madera County does not note a Midway Palm and Pine south of Avenue 11 along US Route 99.  No other California Highways & Public Works seem to lend any additional evidence to the origin of the Midway Palm & Pine.  


The 1964 California State Highway Renumbering saw numerous US Routes eliminated to avoid numbering duplications with Interstates and long multiplexes.  Given a large portion of US Route 99 was slated to be replaced with Interstate 5 it also was targeted for removal from California.  The AASHO Renumbering database shows that US Route 99 was approved to be truncated out of California by the AASHO Executive Committee on June 29th, 1965.  This measure was put the Midway Palm and Pine on California State Route 99.  While the Midway Palm and Pine no longer represented the midway point of US Route 99 in California it still more or less was located at the north/south division of the State.








The Midway Palm and Pine were referenced in the 1977 Danny O'Keefe song titled "In Northern California."


According to mercedcountyevents.com the Midway Palm and Pine were slated for removal by Caltrans when California State Route 99 was undergoing upgrades during the 1980s.  Public outcry over the potential removal of the Midway Palm and Pine preserved their status in the median of the California State Route 99.  The original Midway Pine was toppled by a storm in 2005 and was replaced by the current tree in 2007 (another Cedar Tree and not an actual Pine Tree).  


The Midway Palm and Pine has even been used by the Madera Chamber of Commerce.


The potential future of the Midway Palm and Pine was recently brought up in June 2021 California Transportation Committee minutes (courtesy Daniel Faigin of cahighways.org):

"06-Mad-99, PM 0.1/8.1
Resolution E-21-55
Reference No.: 2.2c.(1) June 23-24, 2021 Page 7 of 8
The attached resolution proposes to approve for future consideration of funding the following project for which a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) has been completed:

•        State Route (SR) 99 in Madera County. Widen SR 99 from four lanes to six lanes in Madera County. (PPNO 6297)

This project is located on SR 99 from just north of Avenue 7 to Avenue 12 (post miles 0.1 to 8.1) in Madera County. The scope of the project is to widen SR 99 in Madera County. One lane would be built in each direction in the highway median to create a six-lane highway. Additionally, the existing lanes and shoulders of SR 99 would be rehabilitated, and a concrete median barrier would be installed along with an auxiliary lane at the Avenue 12 northbound off-ramp. This project is currently programmed in the 2020 State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) for a total of $110,873,000, which includes STIP funding, local funds, Proposition 1B SR 99 funds, and Senate Bill 1 Trade Corridor Enhancement Program funds. Of the total programmed $110,873,000 amount, there is an unfunded need of

$92,500,000.  Construction is estimated to begin in 2023-24. The scope, as described for the preferred alternative, is consistent with the project scope programmed by the Commission in the 2020 STIP.

A copy of the MND has been provided to Commission staff.  The project will result in less than significant impacts to the environment after mitigation.  The following resource areas may be impacted by the project: aesthetics, paleontology, and greenhouse gases.  Avoidance and minimization measures will reduce any potential effects on the environment. These measures include, but are not limited to, relocation of the “Where the Palm Meets the Pine” landmark in the median; pre-construction training, monitoring, identification, and curation of significant fossils if discovered; and the installation of electric vehicle chargers.  As a result, an MND was completed for this project."

It would seem that it is likely the Midway Palm and Pine would be relocated out of the median of California State Route 99 to make way for the addition of additional lanes of the freeway from Avenue 7 north to Avenue 12.  It could seemingly be inferred from the note pertaining to installation of "electric vehicle charges" that some sort of pullout and actual monument for the Midway Palm and Pine may be under consideration.  

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