Two decades ago, Oceanside helped lead the effort to designate U.S. Highway 101 a historic route.
For generations, motorists saw a shield sign and knew they were traveling along U.S. Route 101, a highway that went the length of California and passed right through Downtown Oceanside.
But then came Interstate 5 to take most of the through traffic out of downtown, and a lot of people forgot the old 101 designation — until John Daley, a local restaurateur and historian, put together a plan to resurrect it 20 years ago. Daley got the help of two local legislators to put back replicas of the old signs to let tourists know the highway’s historic significance.
Daley figures there are about a dozen of the distinctive shield signs in the city. He calls Oceanside “a genuine 101 city.”
“We really are the heart of the 101,” he said. “ We have all the old buildings.”
Daley is thinking of some kind of program to acknowledge the 20th anniversary of the historic designation legislation, which formalized something old-timers already knew.
They remember U.S. 101, part of a nationwide system of highways that predated interstate freeways, but inaugurated a numbering system still in use: north-south routes carried odd numbers, while east-west roads were designated with even numbers.
Initiated by then state Assemblyman William Morrow and co-authored by the late state Sen. William Craven, both Oceanside Republicans, the 1998 legislation recognized that the route was one of the first in the state highway system, designated by the Bureau of Highways in 1896 and adopted formally in 1909. The federal designation was added in 1925.
Daley, interviewed near the Historic Route 101 sign at North Coast Highway (formerly Hill Street) and Mission Avenue (Second Street once upon a time), said his curiosity about the road was piqued by a transportation report given to the city’s Historic Preservation Commission by former city Senior Planner Rita Baker. The report was written by the late Kathleen Flanigan, a well-respected historical researcher in San Diego County.
He noted when the city was incorporated in 1888, it was important that the roadway run relatively near the railroad tracks. Local trucks took goods off the trains.
Just as it was called Hill Street or Coast Highway here, other North County cities have had their own names for the route: Camino Del Mar in Del Mar, once First Street in Encinitas and Carlsbad Boulevard in Carlsbad.
They jumped on the historic-route designation bandwagon with Oceanside. A Highway 101 Association was formed. Peder Norby, then executive director of the Downtown Encintias Mainstreet Association, was a particularly enthusiastic supporter.
“It was an important part of our history, of our economic development,” Daley said.
He once owned the 101 Cafe and said he knows some people may believe he was active in the campaign to boost his business.
But he said the real impetus was Flanigan’s transportation report. The route through town was THE highway linking Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties along the coast until a bypass was opened in 1953 — and later I-5 was built.
View a Historic Route 101 exhibit at the Sunset Market on Oct. 18, Nov. 1, 8 and 15 at Pier View Way west of North Coast Highway.