Highway 101

Highway historian Stephen H. Provost takes a fun-filled look at the history and attractions of one of California’s great highways in Highway 101: The Story of El Camino Real. The book tells the picturesque story of this great highway and the restaurants, motels, gas stations and tourist stops that made the road memorable to generations of travelers, illustrated with 200 historic photographs of the life and times of the great highway.

Now the highway has the utilitarian designation of U.S. Route 101, but originally it had a name of romance and mystery — El Camino Real, or the King’s Highway, built on the trail pioneered by the Spanish friars and marked by mission bells on the roadside.

Regional historian Stephen H. Provost brings back the lore and history of this fabled highway. This is the second in Provost’s California’s Historic Highways series, Highway 101 tells the picturesque story of this great highway and the restaurants, motels, gas stations and tourist stops that made the road memorable to generations of travelers, illustrated with 200 historic photographs of the life and times of the highway.

Unique among U.S. highways, the route of the 101 wasn’t chosen for utilitarian reasons but to retrace the old El Camino Real, the legendary King’s Highway of Spanish colonial days. From its beginning, Highway 101 was conceived as a romantic recreation of the past — or as a cynic might put it, as a tourism promotion to bring travelers to the Old California missions.

Highway 101 traces the history of every mile of the roads that became U.S. Route 101, from the Carlsbad Highway in San Diego to the Redwood Highway on the Oregon border. This amazing history documents how a 1901 antiquarian project to recreate the mission trail grew to be the six-lane superhighway of today, and how automobile travel transformed from leisurely tourism to one of the greatest selling tools in American history.

As Provost observes, the travelers on a highway are a captive audience for billboards, restaurants, hotels, gas stations, roadside attractions and tourist traps of all kinds. From Disneyland to the historic Madonna Inn to the Avenue of the Giants, Highway 101 catalogs the great landmarks along the road and recreates the sights, sounds and flavors of road trips from early 20th century to the present day, with lively and detailed descriptions of the landmarks and business empires that flourished along the highway.

The book also covers some of the extraordinary history that has happened on the roadside. Highway 101 runs through California’s agriculture heartland, and many of the labor struggles of the 20th century took place along the highway. Highway 101 chronicles the migrations of the Depression, the great Salinas lettuce strike of 1936, the desperate laborers photographed by Dorothea Lange and the worst bus-train accident in U.S. history, when a train hauling sugar beets plowed into a bus carrying celery workers.

Additional chapters cover the birth of the California oil industry, the invention of the motel and the development of the theme park industry, plus the fascinating personalities, from Jelly Roll Morton to Cecil B. DeMille, whose lives intersected with the history of the route.

A colorful history of Americana, commerce, travel and fun, Highway 101 captures the magic of the open road. ◊

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