The 5 Freeway Initially Hurt Tustin Businesses

by Juanita Lovret
Reprinted courtesy of the Tustin News

Kidds Garage was one of the numerous service stations and garages serving travelers on Highway 1 through Tustin prior to the opening of the 5 Freeway.

Once upon a time there was a small town called Tustin located at the exact spot on the 101 Highway where travelers between Los Angeles and San Diego began to think about filling up the gas tank, stopping for a stretch, a cup of coffee and a snack.

Then on Oct. 27, 1955, the newly completed 5 freeway opened to traffic and cars began to speed past this small town. Service stations, garages and cafes patronized by the motorists in the past waited, but their only customers were local residents.

Some people called this first freeway completed in Orange County a lifeline of Southern California economy, an influence on industrial and residential growth and a taxable value for Orange County, but for others, it was a sad day when the section circling the west side of Tustin opened.

Basically the freeway followed the same route as the old Highway 1, except it bypassed the heart of Tustin. With on/off ramps in the early days limited to Tustin Avenue and Red Hill, Old Town Tustin was easily missed. The $6.55 million construction project turned Tustin’s central business center into a ghost town.

The Tustin News reporter who wrote “Thank the freeways for driving time convenience. Tustin Area residents couldn’t be in a better spot for easy access to major shopping centers and recreations spots” forgot that a number of residential streets had been bisected with no way for traffic to pass between the two sections.

The many vintage homes including Los Alisos, where Madame Modjeska lived while residing in Tustin, and the acres of citrus destroyed meant nothing to him. Nor did he have any sympathy for those with homes that survived the freeway, only to listen to the roar of traffic 24 hours a day.

The dozen or so gasoline stations and garages that lined Highway 101 from First and Tustin Avenue to Laguna Road soon felt the pinch of losing the trade of the hundreds of cars that no longer traveled through town each week. Tustin’s many cafes and snack shops also suffered.

Even policeman “Big” John Stanton, who had made sure out-of-town cars observed the speed limits, was bored.

Basil F.H. Brewster had foreseen that the freeway would bring fewer overnight customers to Brewster Auto Court and sold his business prior to completion of the 5. As motorists vanished, the new owner decided to turn the cottages into a business complex .

The opening of the 5 coincided with other changes: an influx of new residents, many lured to Tustin by the convenience of freeways; annexation of outlying areas; the building of tracts of new homes, shopping centers and business plazas.

Eventually, after the Navy closed the Lighter Than Air Base, Tustin was invited to start a new community on its land. Tustin Legacy and The District are the results. The City of Tustin has become larger in the last 50 plus years, both in size and population. Fortunately or unfortunately, Old Town has changed very little.

 

 

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