John Vonderlin: The Modern Road: The Ocean Shore Highway, 233 Curves

Story by John Vonderlin

Email John: [email protected]

Hi June,
This article appeared in the September, 1941 issue of “California Highways and Public Works.”


“A portion of the trail blazed by Gaspar de Portolo (sic) and his cavalcade of well over half a hundred men on his first land exploring expedition in 1769, has, after a period of 172 years, been transformed into a modern highway. A day’s journey of 10 to 15 miles made by Portolo, (sic) from one camp to the next, can now be made in as many minutes.


A new link in the Ocean Shore Highway, State Sign Route No. 1, extending 8.8 miles from Pescadero to San Gregorio in San Mateo county, constructed over new right of way, has replaced twelve miles of old, narrow road composed of a series of blind vertical and horizontal curves.
The old road had a maximum grade of 8.8 percent, 233 curves with a minimum radius of 50 feet and a total of 9,219 degrees of curvature. The new highway has a maximum grade of 7 percent, 19 curves with a minimum radius of 625 feet, and a total of 621 degrees of curvature.
This new unit in the progressive modernization of the Ocean Shore highway between San Francisco and Santa Cruz has a graded roadbed of 36 feet, surfaced with a two-lane plant mix pavement 22 feet wide and penetration oil shoulders laid on local select material and crusher run base.
It was necessary to construct two new bridges in connection with the highway project, one over Pescadero Creek, one over San Gregorio Creek. Both bridges are of continuos reinforced concrete girder design.
The Pescadero Creek bridge consists of six 43 foot spans and two 33 foot six inch spans on concrete bents on steel piles varying in length fron 25 to 50  feet.below the concrete bent footings.
The San Gregorio Creek bridge is made up of three 59 foot spans and two 44 foot spans on concrete bents also founded on steel piles varying in length from 25 to 40 feet below the concrete bent footings.
The completion of this section of highway opens to the public a new playground of sandy beaches for picknicking, bathing, and surf fishing.
The State Administration through the Division of Highways and County of San Mateo, working in conjunction have acquired title to miles of beautiful beaches, including the far-famed Sna Mateo County Pebble Beach, which have been made accessible for free public recreation.


The project was set up under two contracts, one for the highway work and one for the bridges; the highway work under District IV forces, and the bridges by the Bridges Department. N. M. Ball Sons of Berkeley were the contractors on the highway section and the Campbell Construction Company of Sacramento was the bridge contractor.
The project was financed by funds budgeted by the California Highway Commission, including Federal Aid, and by Joint Highway District No. 9, composed of the San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties.
Dedicatory ceremonies were held on August 17, at the Pescadero Creek Bridge. State, County and Joint Highway District officials took part in the ceremonies in which Deputy Director of Public Works Keaton represented Governor Olson and Director Frank W. Clark. A short program of speech making preceded a barbeque served in Pescadero under the auspices of the Pescadero Junior Chamber of Commerce.
Progress in the construction of the Ocean Shore Highway has progressed steadily under the co-operative efforts of the State and the Joint Highway District.
The highway has been constructed to modern standards between a connection with Junipero Sierra Boulevard at the south city limits of San Francisco to Moss Beach via Thornton, where it crosses Skyline Boulevard, Edgemar, and Rockaway Beach.
Improvement in Santa Cruz County has been accomplished through two contracts between one and one and a half miles miles south of Davenport and Waddell Creek.
The most spectacular project was the elimination of the notorious Pedro Mountain grade by the construction of the six-mile section between Farallone City and Rockaway Beach.

John Vonderlin: HMB’s Potter Ave: Now we know why it’s called Potter Avenue

Story by John Vonderlin
Email John: [email protected]

W. D. Potter Company, Inc. selling HALF MOON BAY LOTS
The Miramontes Tract, the first tract thrown open to the public, has been sold. It was the first tract bought in Half Moon Bay and the first sold out. We have profited by experience. So may you. Tract No. 2 adjoins the Miramontes Tract No. 1. It is on high ground, like the Miramontes No. 1, opening into the main street of Half Moon Bay.

PRICES; $175 – $500

Be near the bank, good stores and the PostOffice–not near an imaginary city–a vision of the future


The Great Storm of 1926 (and how it eventually affected what we see (straight ahead) when we drive on modern-day roads

[Image below: 1970s: Standing on a slab of the “Ocean Shore Highway” at El Granada.]

The Great Storm of 1926

by June Morrall

When J.O Richards, chief engineer at the Point Montara Light Station, drove toward Half Moon Bay on a rainy Friday morning in February of 1926, he encountered the unexpected.

As Richards cautiously made his way along the wind swept bluffs in the small resort town of Princeton, he veered to avoid piles of driftwood strewn across the roadway.

And, as the downpour steadily increased, he swerved to avoid the impact of a giant wave heading for the windshield of his car. Slowly, he ground the automobile to a halt. Richards was visibly shaken, and when he got out of the car and  saw the shattered windshield, he knew he was lucky to have escaped physical injury.

The next morning local newspapers described the alterations to the shoreline caused by  “the worst storm in the Coastside’s history.”

A combination of driving rain and heavy seas savaged the stretch of coastline between Princeton and Miramar, heralded by Ocean Shore Railroad publicists in the early 1900s as one of the safest and most beautiful beaches.

The 1926 storm left its ugly mark on the beaches but some locals still remembered the whipping rain and wind of 1887 that claimed the Centennial Flag, then the pride of Half Moon Bay.The beloved flagpole toppled from its base and crashed through the ceiling of the Ames Saloon. At the time, the owner was out for breakfast and fortunately no one was hurt. But the saloon’s fancy chandeliers and lamps lay cracked and splintered across the wooden floor.

Although treated with wood preservatives, the flag pole, more than 100-feet tall, had rotted off at the ground and broke into several pieces. When it fell, the pole severed the town’s telegraph wires, temporarily cutting Half Moon Bay off from chatter with the rest of the county.

But in 1926 the storm’s most painful damage centered around the Prohibition beach resorts of Princeton and Granada where the powerful waves relentlessly smashed the fragile cliffs. In some places, the erosion reduced the distance between  beach and the “Ocean Shore Highway” from 25-feet to a few inches.

You may not know that in the 1920s the road from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay followed a slightly different route than it does today. The highway 1 we are familiar with today was completed in the 1950s. But during Prohibition, beginning, say,  at Montara, the Ocean Shore Highway turned east on Main Street, passing through Moss Beach along Etheldore Street. Then the road skimmed over flat country until reaching Princeton, with its three piers, where it turned south along Capistrano Road, following the shoreline for a short distance.

In Granada, the road turned eastward on Alhambra Avenue, then heading west into hotel-lined Miramar–where, in the 1970s, sections of the old crumbling roadway could be seen on the strand between El Granada and Miramar. Passing through the Coastside’s rich artichoke growing district, the Ocean Shore Highway reached Half Moon Bay.

Some oldtimers claimed the high tide at 9:30 a.m. on that morning in February 1926  was the highest level ever seen on the Coastside. For hours, big wave after big wave pounded the cliffs. And every third or fourth or fifth wave splashed up and over the highway, leaving behind a rubble of driftwood and pebbles,closing the roadway until workers arrived to clear away the debris.

The ocean’s waves swamped Artichoke King Dante Dianda’s ranch in Granada, and the land he farmed nearest Pillar Point Breakwater has vanished completely, eaten up by the sea. But For Dianda, worse was yet to come. Two months after the February storm, a large dam located on Dianda’s property in the back of Granada, burst, sending thousands of gallons of water spilling down the mountain-side. The tremendous water pressure pushed a vacation home some 600 feet from its original position. For hours 12 inches of slushy mud covered the roadway between Princeton and Granada.

During the Great Storm of 1926, piles of driftwood washed to within five feet of the popular Patroni House operated by Giovanni (John) Patroni, a prominent businessman and Coastside resident since 1902.

Also in Princeton,  rogue waves wrecked both the 1000-foot Henry Cowell Wharf (which I think stood near Hazels, now Barbara’s FishTrap), and cement manufacturer Cowell’s warehouse. A small fish market, belonging to J.S. Bettencourt, was damaged beyond reognition and a donkey engine and pile driver were swept into the sea.

In Moss Beach, right there on the sandy beach,  Charlie Nye’s famous “Reefs” lost its dancing platform, which was swept away. Nye always enjoyed telling guests that he had entertained the likes of author Jack London and horticulturist Luther Burbank. In Miramar, the once historic shipping wharf that could be seen from the big picture windows of Joe Miguel’s Palace Miramar Hotel lost a section of essential decking, leaving an empty space where there had been a connection to the mainland.

A month later when another devastating storm visited the Coastside, a combination of heavy rain and seas pummeled the Princeton=Granada-Miramar roadway, forcing automobile traffic to take a detour. By now only a few feet remained between the Ocean Shore Highway and the cliffs and there was  a 30 to 40 foot drop to the beach below. Officials revealed plans to relocate this stretch of roadway, constructing what we know today as the beautiful shoreline highway running the length of California.

But both John Patroni and Dante Dianda strongly resisted change. They did not want to alter the roadway as it then existed, even if the storm was chewing up the cliffs.  As they argued that Princeton’s hotels depended upon tourists using the old, shrinking road, the bad weather continued to force temporary closure of the Princeton-Granada-Miramar thoroughfare.

In a desperate attempt to save what Dianda and Patroni called “the prettiest and safest bathing beach on the Pacific Coast,” the farmer and the roadhouse owner offered San Mateo County officials the land necessary for construction of the new highway asking only that they build it as close as possible to its original location. To protect the new highway, they recommended  building a sturdy rock retaining wall. Dianda and Patroni had the full support of the community; “roadviewers,” they were called, “voted” to keep the new road in the old location. But instead of curving into and out of the Ocean Shore Railroad- era  towns of yesterday, when Highway 1 was finally completed in the 1950s, the new ribbon of road completely ignored them, looking neither east nor west, but just straight ahead.