For some, Golden Center Freeway was a ‘Calamity Cut’
Editor’s note: The following column authored by the late Bob Wyckoff, who died in January, was originally published by The Union on April 29, 2010. As part of The Union’s 150th anniversary celebration, each month we are sharing some of Wyckoff’s work in chronicling the history of our community.
A mid-1960s highway project, known today as the Golden Center Freeway was, hands down “the” most controversial of any in the western county in the 20th century.
The Division of Highways, as Caltrans was then known, decided that the best route for a proposed limited access freeway was to cut through the downtown areas of both Grass Valley and Nevada City, a practice common throughout the state at that time.
Nevada City’s downtown was the biggest loser, as a portion of Broad Street was transformed and fell victim to “Calamity Cut.”
Grass Valley’s portion spared all of its greater downtown and lost none of Mill and Main streets.
They did lose some homes and the Grass Valley Laundry, the inactive Golden Center gold mine and a few stores on South Auburn Street.
A long-range study had determined that traffic between Grass Valley and Nevada City was on the verge of needing a route with more traffic lanes and better access.
At that time the lumber industry was flourishing and scores of log-hauling tractor trailer rigs jammed the one lane in each direction of SR 49-20 between the two towns.
Public input meetings were held and a few folks, mainly downtown merchants, thought that dumping traffic downtown would stimulate business.
Others were aghast at the thought of losing blocks of houses, businesses and other historic buildings.
In the end, except for a slight realignment that saved Ott’s Assay in Nevada City, the South Yuba Canal and “hot mill” building, the cut pretty much followed the route the state road engineers dictated.
Alf Heller, publisher of the weekly Nevada County Nugget, and one of the pioneer leaders of our local preservation movement, labeled the project “Calamity Cut,” and many climbed on the bandwagon, but to no avail!
Today the freeway carries more traffic than originally predicted, but there is still doubt in many minds that a route around the towns could and should have been seriously pursued. Ah, well … onward and upward.
A few comments from readers on the topic and a photo of
“My father’s Nevada City surplus store, Len’s Surplus, was taken and Dad moved the store to 315 Spring St.,” said reader Kenneth Holbrook.
“The only thing that was left of Len Littlejohn’s Long John’s Tavern, a bar and the only place in town with draft beer! … and my dad’s store where the old bricks (which) we cleaned … and sold … for nine cents each. Part of the building … was Old Frank’s Pizza before he moved to Main Street in Grass Valley.”
Thanks Kenneth, and I’ll add a few more landmark victims:
On the south side of Broad Street was Evelyn Dalaba’s tiny Sugar Loaf cafe, the last place in town that sold the old fashioned meal tickets mainly to pensioners.
Next to John Sbaffi’s’ Plaza Grocery was Tom Walsh’s Ten to One Club, a bar with rooms above. In the Long John’s building, Dorothy Harkins taught many little feet to dance all sorts of steps from the waltz to the archaic French gavotte in Dee Dee’s Dance studio.
On the north side of Broad, lost were Al Shirley’s Standard Station, Al and Mary Wallace’s dry cleaners, Marv Haddy’s Shell at Nevada and Main and a vacant store.
The National Annex (south side) would later suffer the indignity of a disastrous fire and was torn down. The land now serves as Tom Coleman’s National Hotel parking lot.
“The big cut to build the freeway,” readers Debbie and Jim Luckinbill wrote. “people went in there (Manzanita Ravine) to dig for bottles and panned for gold on the weekends, when they were not working on the freeway … the original contractor went broke — construction stopped … and another contractor finished the job … they went through the Union Hotel … and gas station(s).”
Bob Wyckoff, was a former newspaper editor, author of local history, a lifetime student of California history and a longtime resident of Nevada County. Visit TheUnion.com for more of his stories and photography on western Nevada County history.
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