November 7, 2011

Highway 395 promoted as Three Flags Highway

Historians work to revive 'Mother Road of the West'

Natasha Lindstrom
Victor Valley Daily Press

It's not nearly as famous as Route 66, but Highway 395 — sometimes called the "Mother Road of the West" — carries its own historical weight.

In the 1930s, Southern Californians dubbed the thoroughfare the Three Flags Highway for linking Mexico, the United States and Canada.

During World War II, Highway 395 provided military convoys with a safe alternative to coastal roads deemed vulnerable to attack.

Even today, the Three Flags Highway offers a scenic ride isolated from the heavy traffic clogging routes through Los Angeles.

The Historic Route 395 Association in Southern California is now trying to revive the Three Flags name as part of an effort to preserve the vintage motor courts, gas stations, restaurants and signs that still dot the old route, which once stretched from the San Diego Bay near the California-Mexico border to the Canadian border in Washington state.

“For the High Desert, it allowed the tourist industry to come up through the Cajon Pass and to explore the Eastern Sierras,” said Jeffrey Harmon, founding member of the 395 association, “and it also provided the only north-to-south route for commercial traffic on the eastern side of the Sierras.”

In June 2008, the California Legislature unanimously approved designating Highway 395 as a historic route from San Diego to the Oregon state line. But legislators left it up to cities and community organizations to pay for putting up historic markers and promoting the designation.

“Everything south of Hesperia has been reassigned to either city streets or completely disappeared all together,” Harmon said. “That history is important to preserve.”

Tracing the thorough fare’s pre-1948 route, the association has already installed about 100 signs in Riverside and San Diego counties, slowly making its way toward San Bernardino County and the Cajon Pass. The group is giving talks at community events to spread the word and accepting donations to put up more signs, which cost about $70 each.

“We’re doing what we can to get people to slow down, get off that interstate, just take a drive on Highway 395,” he said. “It’s just such a beautiful route.”

Meanwhile, locals continue to wait on a Highway 395 realignment that’s been in talks for decades and other improvements to make it safer to travel the local stretch of the 395.