Front Street and Interstate 5 in Burbank
By Mike McDaniel
Before Burbank had the Golden State Freeway running through the northern part of the city, it had San Fernando Boulevard which was also known as State Highway 99. This was a main street that ran from the northwesterly part of the San Fernando Valley through Burbank and Glendale. As a highway in the time before the Golden State Freeway (I-5), San Fernando Blvd carried a heavy load of cars and especially trucks moving goods from one part of southern California to another, particularly to downtown Los Angeles.
San Fernando Blvd. was rather narrow as it moved through the central business district starting at Burbank Blvd through to Alameda on the Glendale-Burbank border. The City decided that it would rather have the heavy traffic of Highway 99 that did not need to stop in Burbank routed around the central business street of San Fernando Blvd., which was just a two lane street in the center of town, to a wide newly built 4 lane road called Front Street.
The original Front Street began just north of Burbank Blvd. and curved around to the southwest of San Fernando heading into Glendale and connecting back to San Fernando Blvd there. Burbank also vacated streets (some being residential) and others for industrial use buildings. One street was Bonnywood Place that ran along the same direction as San Fernando Blvd. Parts of Bonnywood were left but most of the street was taken up for the new street and in some places such as where Magnolia crossed Front Street it was hard to tell which is Bonnywood and which is Front St as they ran right next to each other and looked like the same street. Front Street also ran alongside the railroad tracks, making it look even wider in most elevated pictures of the area at that time.
Front Street apparently did its job of diverting traffic from the downtown area to ease conditions for shops to thrive along San Fernando Blvd Burbank business district. This remained the main heavy traffic route through the city until the Golden State Freeway was proposed and construction started in the early 1950’s.
The path of the Freeway would have taken it right through the center of Burbank’s Water and Power plant which was unacceptable to the City. Burbank proposed to vacate the central part of Front Street from Verdugo road to Burbank Blvd which caused the freeway to curve dramatically to link up with the land that Front Street occupied. Large dirt mounds and concrete supports had to be built to elevate the new freeway to minimize the loss of other streets and buildings to connect to the land that was the old Front Street. This made sense as it was already a part of a state highway. It did, however, cause a rather dramatic “S” curve in the freeway which still causes traffic to slow down to a crawl at peak times even today.
With off ramps and on ramps needed, almost all of Bonnywood place was eliminated except for a two block strip and Front street was reduced to a two lane side street running from Burbank Blvd Bridge to where it ends at an underpass that becomes Verdugo Road. Bridges also had to be built to go over the freeway and were built on the main streets of Olive Ave., Magnolia Blvd. and Burbank Blvd., with the now small Front Street running under them from the top center of the Burbank Blvd. Bridge.
From a map from the 1940's - 1: Shows Highway 99/Front St. as it approaches Magnolia Blvd. (Magnolia is on the right side of picture.)
From a map from the 1940's - 2: Shows Highway 99/Front St. from Burbank Blvd. (left side of picture). All the houses and streets at the top of the picture will be taken for the I-5 when it is built. The water heater company will become Zero Manufacturing.
Current sign: Here is the current sign on the edge of Los Angeles and Burbank on San Fernando Road.