Newhall Tunnel

South portal

By September of 1907, a tunnel bored a short distance to the west of the Beale's Cut was the preferred solution over deepening the cut. By January of 1909, the Highway Commission had approved plans for a tunnel. Funding would come from a Los Angeles County bond issue.

In December of 1909, the Board of Supervisors awarded the contract for the construction of the tunnel to E.E. Shaffer of Los Angeles. He was the successful bidder agreeing to do the job for $63,364 and have it done in less than six months. Actual work was due to begin on December 30, 1909. Plenty of blasting powder would be used for the job (from the LA Times of 12/28/1909).

60 men were employed and nearly 100 horses and mules were to be used. The men would soon have their own camp near the tunnel site where they could live. Very little machinery would be used. Schaffer believed that blasting powder and manpower would get the job done. There was also cutting and grading needed on both sides of the tunnel, making the whole project about 5100 feet in length. The contract did not include preparing the road surface. That would be done after the tunnel was completed.

On June 20, 1910, the Board of Supervisors granted Shaffer an extension from July 1 to August 31, 1910. A hard conglomerate needed more blasting work and would slow down progress. (LA Herald 6/21/10)

Due to changes in the tunnel specifications, cost was increased by $1816. Another extension for completion was given to Shaffer. The new date was October 31. (LA Herald 9/8/1910)

The Los Angeles Herald reported on December 6, 1910 that:
A. E. Loder, chief engineer of the highway commission, recommended to the board of supervisors yesterday that a bronze tablet bearing the names of the board, the contractor, the highway commission and himself be placed at the entrance to the Newhall tunnel in commemoration of its completion. He said the tablet could be secured at a cost of $125 or two tablets for $175. Loder said, however, that he thought one tablet would be sufficient. The matter was taken under advisement.
The tunnel was officially opened on December 21, 1910 (see article below).

The total length of the finished tunnel was 435 feet. It was 17 feet high and 17 feet 5 inches wide. It was about 200 feet below the summit and about 250 feet below Beale's Cut. The road grade was reduced from about 26 % through the cut to about 6 % through the tunnel.

In 1917, this road became part of the State Highway system as Route 23. It would later become Route 6 and then Sierra Highway.

The tunnel originally did not have lights but at some point in time they must have been added because in July of 1924, the lights were turned off to conserve power (p7, California Highways, July 1924).

By the middle 1920's, the narrow tunnel was beginning to become a bottleneck to traffic. Motorists began demanding a solution. The number of automobiles registered in California in 1910 was 44,132. The number registered in 1927 was 689,902. The population in Los Angeles County increased from about 504,000 to 2,250,000. These increasing numbers were causing the bottleneck. On May 1, 1927, in a 24 hour period 24,480 autos carrying more than 75,000 people passed through the tunnel (from the Van Nuys News of 6/17/1927).

The Newhall Signal of July 21, 1927, reported that "The interior of the Newhall tunnel is being painted a brilliant white, which much improves the light, and makes it much easier to drive through."

Early proposals were to construct a new tunnel or construct a road over the summit near Beale's Cut. Another idea was to construct a road from San Fernando up to the Pacoima Dam and then to Sand Canyon. From there it would go either up Mint Canyon or Soledad Canyon to the Antelope Valley.

In October of 1929, a contract was awarded to McCray Company of Los Angeles to change the alignment of the just north of the tunnel. Up to 1930, the road going north exited the tunnel and turned to the right (east) onto today's Clampitt Road. Then the road followed a wide loop to where it runs into today's Sierra Highway and continued on to Newhall. The new road would go straight north from the tunnel and run into the point where Remsen Road joins Sierra Highway, basically following today's alignment. That would shorten and straighten the road. The contract price was for about $70,000 for a length of 1.1 miles. It was finished in June of 1930 (info from California Highways and Public Works magazine).

But something still had to be done about the bottleneck at the tunnel.

From the Los Angeles Times of October 4, 1907

From the Los Angeles Times of October 8, 1907

From the Los Angeles Herald of November 21, 1909

From the Los Angeles Times of December 28, 1909

From the Los Angeles Herald of April, 17, 1910

Pre-completion description of tunnel construction from Municipal Engineering magazine of May 1910

Complete description of tunnel construction from the Engineering Record weekly magazine of May 20, 1911 (p566-567). Note that the construction did not include any lights, but construction plans took that into account.

Official opening on December 21, 1910. Article from the Los Angeles Herald of December 22. Note that a bronze tablet was placed at the south entrance to the tunnel. The completion of this tunnel was the end of the need for Beale's Cut.

The Los Angeles Rubber Stamp Company manufactured the tablet. This is from their Catalogue No. 20, circa 1920.

Title: "Newhall Tunnel" (1912)
This photo is dated 1912, two years after the tunnel opened, but it looks to me that the tunnel is still under construction. Everything looks freshly cut. This photo (and the next one) must have been taken in 1910 before the tunnel was opened.

Source: Lippincott Collection, Water Resources Center Archives - University of California, Berkeley
Copyright Note: This image is not in the public domain and is protected by the copyright laws of the United States.
Used by permission of the University of California, Berkeley, Regents.

Title: "Newhall Road Tunnel" (1912)

Source: Lippincott Collection, Water Resources Center Archives - University of California, Berkeley
Copyright Note: This image is not in the public domain and is protected by the copyright laws of the United States.
Used by permission of the University of California, Berkeley, Regents.

From the Good Roads Magazine of May, 1911. Some maintenance work appears to be in progress. This is the south portal.

"Newhall Tunnel, just opened. F.C. Ripley center, driver of 1910 Cadillac." Collection of F.C. Ripley. This photo was in The San Fernando Pass and the Pioneer Traffic that Went Over It by Vernette Snyder Ripley, Part IV, The Quarterly, Historical Society of Southern California, June 1948, Vol. XXX, No. 2. Frederick Chandler Ripley (1877-1960) was the husband of Vernette Ripley (1879-1961).

Waiting for the wagons (date unknown, but probably before 1915)

This image is NOT in the public domain. It is owned by Brad Therrien and used with his permission.

Wagons gone, now take your own photo.

This image is NOT in the public domain. It is owned by Brad Therrien and used with his permission.

From Technical World Magazine of May, 1913

South portal dated 1914

Title: Fremont Pass Road now in use. Photographer: William H. Frick.
From: The Los Angeles Aqueduct, Itinerary of the Water of the Los Angeles Aqueduct From its Source to 1837 Canyon Drive, 1915. The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

Article from American City of April 1916. This is the north portal (entrance) of the tunnel.

South portal (entrance) of the tunnel. The rock beds in this area slope down to the west.

Postcard of south portal. This is a very common postcard. I have three of them myself. The road up to the entrance curves to the right. On the north portal, the road curves to the left.

North portal. The road up to the entrance curves to the left. The rock beds are still dipping to the west, the right hand side of the photo.

From the Official Automobile Blue Book of 1919

Title - "Ridge route, Newhall tunnel" - 1920's postcard. The sign says "They Cool".

Copyright Note: This image is NOT in the public domain and is protected by the copyright laws of the United States.
Courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento, California.

Photo 1 from the Coblentz family vacation of 1926. This and the next photo I bought from ebay. I don't know who the Coblentz family was.

Photo 2 from the Coblentz family vacation

At a little over 17 feet wide and high, larger trucks had problems driving through the tunnel. Two trucks going in opposite directions would have a big problem.

1927: "Typical Sunday traffic between San Fernando and Newhall, Los Angeles County." (From California Highways and Public Works, Vol. 4, No. 8, August 1927, p. 10)

1937 - South portal

1937 - North portal (photo by Herman J. Schultheis)

Copyright Note: This image is NOT in the public domain and is protected by the copyright laws of the United States.
Used by permission of the Herman J. Schultheis Collection /Los Angeles Public Library.

Aerial photo taken sometime in 1928 showing the old alignment. The Newhall Tunnel and Beale's Cut are on the left.

Aerial photo taken between July 18, 1930 and August 25, 1930 showing the new alignment with no curve.

Articles about the realignment work

1933 edition of the USGS topographic map of the Newhall Quad. The older alignment of the road has now been replaced by the new 1930 alignment to the north. This map also shows the new Weldon Canyon Road (Highway No. 99), built to relieve some of the traffic at the tunnel. At the bottom right of the map is Tunnel Station (marked as only Tunnel).

On the far left is the 1916 Fremont Pass monument. The larger middle monument had two plaques on it - one for the Oak of the Golden Dream and one for the Pioneer Refinery. It was placed in September of 1947. On the right is the monument that had the Newhall tunnel plaque. I don't know when it was placed. All the plaques were stolen many years ago and never replaced.

Here is a close up of the oldest 1916 plaque (from the Valley Times Collection, Los Angeles Public Library). The name of girl is unknown. The plaque says:

Fremont Pass
Erected by
San Fernando Ebell Club
May 25, 1916

Larger middle marker with the two plaques. 1973 photo by Michael Kindig of Long Beach, CA, from the historical markers website. I was alerted to this photo by Paul Reno of Palmdale, CA. Thanks Paul.

The two plaque monument was completed during the week of September 8, 1947. From the Newhall Signal of September 18, 1947.

Plaque honoring the construction of the Newhall tunnel located south of the tunnel. Is the bottom plaque the same plaque that was on the tunnel wall and removed when the tunnel was removed? The wording is the same. Some have speculated that this monument was constructed in 1939 after the tunnel was removed, but the 1947 article above does not mention it.

Newhall Tunnel Site
<----- 1/4 Mile

Constructed By
Los Angeles County Highway Commission
A.D. 1910
Geo. H. Bixby, Chairman
Martin C. Marsh John W. Calvert
Arthur E. Loder Chief Engineer

Board Of Supervisors
C.J. Nellis, Chairman
H.D. McCabe R.W. Pridham
S.T. Eldridge C.D. Manning
E. E. Shaffer Contractor

Unfortunately, the marker that had the tunnel plaque has slipped off its base

View from the side (4/12/2015)

The road to the tunnel in 1914. The old road to Beale's cut is on the right, closer to the creek bed.

Newhall grade just south of Newhall Tunnel looking west (Photo taken 1-23-1928 by Lynne M. Correll).

Photo caption: "Vicinity of the Newhall tunnel. Knife like ridges with vertical eroded sides are characteristic of this region. Chamise and sage are the common types."

Images from the Wieslander Vegetation Type Mapping Collection are courtesy of the Marian Koshland Bioscience and Natural Resources Library, University of California, Berkeley,

About the same view almost 80 years later (Taken 2-17-2007)