Santa Monica's McClure Tunnel—is there a more dramatic 400 feet of roadway in all the Southland? First, the daylight fades as you leave behind the Santa Monica Freeway and plunge through the tunnel's eastern portal. The road curves through the darkness, and then a new world flashes before you. As your eyes readjust, it all comes into focus: the rolling surf of the Pacific, a white sand beach, the hills of Malibu. You are now driving the Pacific Coast Highway.
It's an old thrill—one that long predates both the Santa Monica Freeway and Pacific Coast Highway, as this 1898 film from Thomas Edison's production company shows:
As early as 1886, the Southern Pacific bored a tunnel through Santa Monica's ocean bluffs so that trains traveling through the Santa Monica Arroyo—a natural drainage that once marked the southern edge of town—could turn parallel to the beach toward a long shipping wharf up the coast. Pacific Electric trolleys later used this curved tunnel, which remained in service until shortly before its rotted wooden frame collapsed in 1935.
By then the state had already drafted plans to reconfigure the historic conduit. When the dust settled in 1936, Olympic Boulevard traced the old path of the railroad through the arroyo, and a wide, arched concrete tunnel curved through the bluffs where the wooden railroad shaft had been. One final change came in 1965, when the Santa Monica Freeway replaced Olympic Boulevard through the arroyo. Ever since, the tunnel has marked the western terminus of Interstate 10's route—and a dramatic way to experience the continent's end.
Above: The McClure Tunnel in 2009. Photo by Flickr user chicanerii. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Top image: The McClure Tunnel's precursor, circa 1890. Courtesy of the Santa Monica Public Library Image Archives.