Only stop signs interrupted our drives

by Juanita Lovret
Reprinted courtesy of the Tustin News

Today, as we battle traffic on Seventeenth, Newport and other thoroughfares around Tustin it is hard to remember when driving in the area could be described as leisurely.

Seventeenth Street was once a two-lane road edged with dirt shoulders and towering eucalyptus trees. Starting at Newport Avenue, it continued to Long Beach, becoming Westminster Boulevard near Garden Grove. Traveling east from Santa Ana’s Main Street to Tustin, drivers had to brake only for stop signs at Grand and Tustin Avenues and an occasional stray dog.

Newport also was a sleepy country road. A friend who lived near the intersection with Seventeenth recalls roller-skating there as a child. Many other main roads in the Tustin areas were equally tranquil. Prospect, also a narrow two-lane road shaded by giant blue gum trees, passed between beautiful orchards interspersed with Victorian ranch houses. A giant hedge of Cecil Brunner roses bordered the east side of the street near present day Columbus Tustin Park.

Tustin Avenue was just as peaceful. Orange orchards filled the four corners at Seventeenth and continued south to First Street. Fruit and Fourth, which stopped at Tustin Avenue in those days, were the only breaks in the dense growth of trees although several Victorian houses were hidden deep in the orchards. A half dozen large Spanish style homes lined the west side just north of First Street.

State Highway 101, a favorite route from Los Angeles to San Diego, went through the heart of Tustin. Using it, travelers followed Main Street in Santa Ana to First Street, and drove east until they entered downtown Tustin via a curve at D Street (El Camino Real). This street became Laguna Road shortly after Sixth Street, crossed Newport and continued south past Tustin High School.

The 5 and 55 freeways brought dramatic changes. When completed, the 5 Freeway skirted Tustin, cutting diagonally from 17th in Santa Ana to meet and replace Laguna Road below Red Hill. Streets like Pacific, Myrtle, B and Pasadena were literally cut in half and orange groves were ripped out. An off-ramp at Red Hill was the closest link with downtown Tustin although a Newport Avenue exit was added later.

Cars sped right past Tustin until the Tustin Market Place and Auto Center were developed and a ramp was added at Tustin Ranch Road. Although the Santa Ana Freeway unsettled many Tustin residents, its impact was rivaled by the changes that came with the construction of the 55 Freeway. Tustin Avenue and Newport Avenue, which joined near McFadden to become a main route from Tustin to Newport and Balboa, were the hardest hit. Tustin Avenue was amputated at First Street and Newport Avenue was abruptly ended shortly past Sycamore.

We have learned to hop on and off the freeways to reach developments such as the Tustin Market Place and the District, but Old Town Tustin still feels the impact of the changes.
Motorists needing gasoline stations and restaurants no longer pass through town and local residents are freewayclose to markets and stores in outlying areas.
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