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Welcome to the ‘President Barack H. Obama Highway

Signs went up Thursday.

By Steve Scauzillo, Pasadena Star News

A short section of the 134 Freeway between Glendale and Pasadena was officially renamed after President Barack Obama on Thursday, a tribute to the 44th president who attended Occidental College in nearby Eagle Rock from 1979-1981 while living in Pasadena for a portion of that time.

Two large, green-and-white freeway signs were unveiled Thursday, one on the right shoulder of westbound State Route 134 at the beginning of the 210 Freeway at Fair Oaks Avenue in Pasadena, the other at the eastbound 134 in the vicinity of Route 2 in the city of Los Angeles near Glendale, according to Caltrans spokesman Marc Bischoff.

The signs rename roughly a five-mile stretch of the 134 (Ventura Freeway) the “President Barack H. Obama Highway.”

Obama most likely traveled the freeway section between Occidental and an apartment at 253 E. Glenarm St. in Pasadena where he lived as a sophomore. At Occidental, a liberal arts school on the western border of Pasadena, Obama gave his first political speech urging the college to divest its investments in South Africa.

Many scholars say the time Obama spent at Occidental was when he cut his teeth on politics, which later led to a seat in the Illinois legislature and the U.S. Senate, before being elected president in 2008 and re-elected in 2012, serving until Jan. 20, 2017.

“The president has often mentioned his fond memories of living in Pasadena and attending Occidental College, so it was very appropriate to name the portion of the freeway he traveled after him,” said state Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge.

Local efforts

Portantino led the effort about two years ago by co-authoring Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 8with Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, who represented Eagle Rock at the time in the state Legislature.

Local Democratic activist John Gallogly suggested the freeway renaming to Portantino. The measure passed with bipartisan support.

No taxpayer dollars were used to build or erect the signs, Bischoff confirmed, adding that the cost of the two signs and labor amounted to about $5,000 and were paid for by private donations.

The signs were uncovered around 10 a.m. Thursday, he said.

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The Pasadena sign announcing the ‘President Barack H. Obama Highway’ is at Fair Oaks Avenue, near where the westbound 210 and 134 splits. (photo by Steve Scauzillo)

Obama supporters, Occidental benefactors and Portantino helped raise funds at the home of Bob and Faye Davidson.

After the Star-News and then other news organizations publicized the renaming effort, Portantino was flooded with offers to pay for the twin signs. He preferred to keep the effort local, he said.

“So many generous people can share in the accomplishment of this appropriate recognition of an inspiring, positive leader, ” Portantino said in a prepared statement. “What a great way to bring in 2019.”


Shoppers at the Smart & Final store near the Pasadena freeway sign at Maple Street and Fair Oaks Avenue were unaware of the recent renaming. However, most reacted positively.

“It’s cool,” said Ronnie Johnson, 64, of Pasadena. “It is better than a Donald Trump freeway,” he added.

Cynthia Montier, 59, of Pasadena, peered at the sign from the store’s parking lot. As a self-described “political beast,” she agreed with the tribute to President Obama while recognizing its limitations.

“I don’t have a problem with it. But it will not bring about world peace or feed hungry kids,” she said.

Portantino plans a formal dedication ceremony some time in January, he said.

In June 2017, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted to rename a 3.4-mile stretch of Rodeo Road through southwest Los Angeles as Barack Obama Boulevard.

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