Originally known as “San Fernando Pass”, this pass was first used in August of 1769 by Don Gaspar de Portola who was looking for a route to the north to follow out the orders of King Charles III of Spain, which were to colonize Alta California. Once through the pass he turned west down the Santa Clara River valley to the coast and then north to Monterey Bay. Once the mission was founded at Monterey travelers used this route extensively
About six years later Father Francisco Garces pushed north from the pass and pioneered the trail north through the Tehachapi Mountains into the interior of California. Later another route was discovered that led from the San Fernando Pass northeast into the Antelope Valley.
As time went on the traffic increased through the pass being traveled by miners, merchants and soldiers. General John C. Fremont marched troops through the pass on his way to sign the Cahuenga Capitulation Treaty that ended the war with Mexico. At that time the pass was named Fremont's Pass.
It was a very steep climb for wagons and at the very top was a four-foot step that caused many passengers to have to disembark and help push the wagon over the top. Sometimes wagons were unable to make the grade and rolled down the mountainside.
After the discovery of gold in the north in 1848 and the founding of Fort Tejon in 1854, also in the north, pressure was put on the government to build a better road. A toll road was started and by 1855 it was open for traffic. They say it was still a fearsome ride. Folks still had to get out and push and one description of the pass has the wagons beating the horses to the bottom of the hill.
A prominent landowner E. F. Beale, having traveled the pass for personal reasons many times, decided to do something about the dangerous conditions. In 1859 he took fifty men and with simple hand tools he made a cut in the mountain side 50 yards long, 65 feet high, and twenty feet wide. Finally the wagons could pass through with reasonable ease. In 1862 Beale was awarded the franchise for the toll road. Wagons were charged a quarter and passengers were charged ten cents. A team of horse was kept nearby to assist wagons in getting over as the hill, which was still quite steep, especially for the 35 ton loaded freight wagons. Thankful teamsters named the area Beale's Cut. Soon the name Fremont's Pass was forgotten and San Fernando Pass was again adopted, but the slot in the sandstone mountain will forever be known as Beale's Cut.
In the years that followed, the San Fernando Pass and namely the Beale's Cut area became Los Angeles's first traffic and air pollution problems. Wagons became backed up waiting to get through the toll road because it was so popular. In the dry months the wagons kicked up so much dirt people could barely see. Sprinkler wagons were brought in to wet the area down. Staging areas were set up for stages and passengers to wait in turn while the wagons went through.
The pass was used until the early 1900's and did get to see its first car, a 1902 Autocar. The car had to go up the hill backwards due to its gravity flow of gasoline to the carburetor. On the decent the wheels were chained to keep some semblance of control.
A tunnel replaced the use of the pass in 1910 and that in turn was made obsolete by the building of four lane highways in 1939.
INFORMATION SOURCE: E-Adventure.net
Photo of Beale's Cut