James Dean death site still CA tourist attractionThe Golden State of California sure has its share of tourist attractions -- Disneyland, Hollywood, the Golden Gate Bridge, the James Dean death site. What? The James Dean death site?
This is one of those tourist attractions you might drive right on by and not realize it, although all the James Dean signage near Cholame, California, tells you something happened there: The James Dean Memorial Junction out on the highway, the James Dean Memorial at a nearby diner -- you get the idea.
For the young folks who may not remember James Dean, he was the Paul Walker of the 1950's -- a handsome, successful Hollywood movie actor who loved fast cars and, when he died, he was just 24 years old. It was a shock to the entire country because James Dean was on a roll -- his movies were more successful than ever, and he was just getting started.
Then came September 30, 1955, and Dean was driving his new Porche 550 Spyder north from Los Angeles to race in Salinas, traveling backroads with his mechanic in the passenger's seat. About a three-hour drive northwest of Los Angeles is the junction where the accident happened -- the intersection of state highways 41 and 46. If you're traveling up the Central Valley, it's the area where you head west to go to Paso Robles.
The pair were driving west on Highway 46 (then called Highway 466) with about a half-hour to go before they would reach Paso Robles when, about 5:45 p.m., a 1950 Ford Tudor traveling east at high speed made a left turn in front of Dean's car onto Route 41. Dean tried to avoid hitting the Ford, but he was traveling at 85 miles an hour and was unable to prevent a spectacular collision. Dean was badly injured and later died on the way to the hospital.
Today, the James Dean Memorial Junction is located at the intersection of highways 46 and 41. Other than a sign, there's not much to see except open fields and vistas. It's fairly desolate out in these parts, many miles away from civilization. But if you search the internet and look back at the photos of the crash that day, the area eerily comes alive. You're transported back to an important event in our country's entertainment history.
There is a memorial at Jack Ranch Cafe in nearby Cholame, and you'll still find a few flowers and a sign or two in various locations near the accident. But other than that, there's not much to see. There's just some open, desolate space where you can ponder how it might have been that a young man who had everything going for him could tragically die so young.
The tiny berg of Cholame didn't have much to make it tourist attraction before 1955, but the death of a revered Hollywood celebrity has a way of putting a town on the map -- yet another famous tourist attraction that California can claim as its own.
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