Golden Center Freeway a reality; Grass Valley portion done |

Golden Center Freeway a reality; Grass Valley portion done

The Union StaffBank Street Overcrossing completed. Photo taken in 1970 looking toward South Auburn Street.
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Dec. 16, 1969: Some 22 years after the first traffic survey was on record, the entire Golden Center Freeway, from Nevada City to Grass Valley, was complete and ready for traffic. A ceremony, highlighted by a unique ribbon-cutting, signaled completion of the last 4-mile section in an almost 8-mile highway system. Lita Brockington Shanly “cut the ribbon” by burning it through with a miner’s carbide lamp. This gesture was symbolic of Nevada County’s glorious gold mining past and officially dedicated the road that opened to traffic a week later.

The ceremonial theme that warm, late-fall Tuesday afternoon 33 years ago was definitely “Golden.” The traditional ribbon was unconventionally gold colored, Mrs. Shanly’s corsage was of golden flowers, the dedication site was on the property of the former Golden Center Mine, on hand was newspaper columnist Bob Paine, whose weekly feature was titled “Golden Days,” and finally, the Golden Center Freeway itself, the real golden star of the show!

Mrs. Shanly was the daughter and only child of Charles and Lucy Brockington, owners of the Golden Center Mine. Her mother, Lucy, suggested the name for the gold mine and the state Legislature officially gave its name to the freeway.

The Grass Valley portion stretches some four miles from Brunswick Road, the end of the Nevada City segment completed in 1967, to just south of Grass Valley to today’s McKnight Street off-ramp.

Len Gilbert, president of the Nevada County Chamber of Commerce, was master of ceremonies and introduced the dignitaries and honored guests.

Among the speakers was Gov. Ronald Reagan’s representative, Robert B. Carleson, chief deputy director of the California Department of Public Works, who outlined the history of the overall project. W. L. Warren, who had been promoted to district engineer, District III, Division of Highways, also spoke. In 1947, Warren had headed up the traffic survey that concluded a freeway was both practical and needed.

Warren praised Granite Construction for “completing 95 percent (of the project) in only 71 percent of the time allotted (for overall construction).”

Gilbert introduced the task force appointed by the Nevada County Board of Supervisors to oversee and expedite the project. Its chairman was Harold A. Berliner Jr., and members included Downey Clinch, president of Alpha Stores; Robert T. (Bob) Ingram, former publisher of The Union; R. W. (Pat) Ingram, civil engineer; R. Peter (Pete) Ingram, publisher of The Union; Stan Hall, Curnow-Halls Insurance; and Robert Gibson.

Assemblyman Gene Chappie (R-Cool) was also singled out for his efforts in promoting early planning and construction. Chappie reminded those in attendance that “the tax-paying public was the prime contributor to construction … (of) highway projects (using) gasoline tax (money) from users themselves.”

According to Blair Geddes, then a Division of Highways traffic engineer in the District III office in Marysville, the overall cost was in excess of $12 million – $7 million for the Grass Valley section and $5 million for Nevada City’s portion.

After the formal ceremonies, the cry was: “Gentlemen, start your engines!” Now, some 50 vehicles followed Don Newton – driving his 40-year-old Model A Ford – from near the South Auburn Street off-ramp over the new highway portion to the Brunswick interchange in the Glenbrook Basin.

In 1967, Newton had opened the Nevada City portion in the same manner, leading a vehicular contingent over the new pavement from near Broad Street to Brunswick.

After the Grand Parade, dignitaries and invited guests adjourned to the Pirate’s Cave restaurant at the recently opened Jolly Roger Lanes for lunch. It is interesting to note that the aforementioned business establishment is gone, torn down some years later to make way for multi-shop use of the property.

We Americans as a people are enthralled by and with superlatives! We dote on “the first this or that,” or “the biggest this or that,” etc. Here’s one, from The Union, Jan. 9, 1970:

“The first accident on the Grass Valley portion of the freeway occurred Thursday evening (Jan. 8), the seventh day after (it) was opened to through traffic.” No location was mentioned.

Seems a pickup truck went off the freeway and rolled over, sustaining major damage. The driver was not injured, according to the California Highway Patrol reports.

Bob Wyckoff is a retired newspaper editor, an author of local history, a lifetime student of California history and a longtime resident of Nevada County. You can write him at The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.

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