Corona’s Corona

Many of my posts start off something like this: "I was looking at this map and I noticed something odd…" Right, that’s how it’s going to go today too. In this instance I was geo-tagging a pile of old photographs I’d scanned and loaded into iPhoto and I stumbled upon a perfect little circle of very unusual diameter in Southern California.

As I drilled down from space it blossomed into Grand Boulevard. The City of Corona sat squarely in the bull’s eye.

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The size of the circle is peculiar for a couple of reasons. First, I haven’t seen many ring roads of this approximate diameter and level of perfection. I’ve certainly found my fair share of smaller loops such as roundabouts or traffic circles. I’ve even driven double-roundabouts such as this particularly evil one shown below outside of Brisbane, Australia on the way to Mount Coot-tha several years ago.

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I realize the European and Australian readers are laughing at this point because roundabouts are an integral part of daily life, but this is unusual for many of us in North America. Consider further that driving on the left side of the road would get me arrested back home. It’s was traumatic.

I’ve also experienced much larger rings like the ones that bypass large cities. Lord knows I’ve spent untold hours sitting on this particular circle, the infamous Washington "Beltway" in all sorts of horrific traffic conditions.

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A medium-sized circle like the one in Corona, however, is a bit of a stranger to me. Even so I tried to tease a little normalcy out of it, figuring I could probably align it to some standard or unit like a kilometre or a mile. However the diameter didn’t seem to match an integer or even a common fractional approximation of either unit as I eyeballed the situation. I was confounded.

It’s necessary to go back to what we learned in Middle School and the equation for the circumference of a circle (2πR). Remember thinking back in those days that you’d never need geometry and promptly forgot about it? Me too. As it turns out, here we find a real-world application, a nice precise three mile circumference (if you believe the city… obviously I didn’t get in my car and drive it).

I still can’t explain why the street pattern doesn’t run North-South / East-West either. Instead it’s as if someone rotated the circle slightly clockwise, with a weird jog in Main Street smack in the middle. It’s so precise in some respects, yet so flawed in others. Crazy.

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Driving along Grand Boulevard. Notice the gentle curvature on the horizon

Naturally I had to find out more about the entire situation. Fortunately the City’s website provides a little clarity.

In 1886, developer Robert Taylor persuaded his partners: Rimpau, Joy, Garretson and Merrill to form the South Riverside Land and Water Company. Together they raised approximately $110,000 to purchase approximately 12,000 acres of good agricultural land. Taylor realized the importance of water for the soon to be developed community, and additional funds were used to ensure that sufficient water rights were obtained. Taylor hired Anaheim engineer H. C. Kellogg to design a circular Grand Boulevard three miles round. Early residents used to parade their fancy buggies on this circular street that enclosed the main functions of the community: schools, churches, residences and stores… The name "Corona" was suggested, standing for the circle within the City and the connotative crown.

Corona has many different dictionary meanings including circle and crown, as well as the fuzzy halo of light that appears around the moon during a total solar eclipse. It’s also a beer made in Mexico with a crown on the label and a lime sticking out the top. (1)

The article goes on to explain further that international automobile races were held on Grand Boulevard in 1913, 1914, and 1916, drawing crowds of up to 100,00 people to a town of only 4,000. The city halted races thereafter because it was too expensive and, well, deaths resulted from the 1916 event. It does seem to be just about racetrack size but I don’t see any banked curves so maybe that was for the best.

City of Corona, California Seal
SOURCE: City of Corona

What I found particularly interesting is that the city apparently derived its name from the shape of the road rather than the other way around. The theme subsequently carried forward to the city seal and even to its nickname, Circle City. Are there other places where this has happened? Are there other perfect little rings like this? Let me know and I’ll add a map in the comments section.

That can’t possibly be a common occurrence, but then again, it’s not a common road.

(1) I attended a beer lecture a number of years ago given by the late Michael Jackson (the beer writer not the one-gloved wonder, although that would probably have been just as entertaining if not more so now that I think about it). At the conclusion he took questions from the audience, and someone asked him to name what he considered to be the worst beer on the planet. Without even a millisecond of a hesitation he answered, "Corona." When pressed for an explanation, and in consideration of the multitude of beers to choose from, he explained that Corona probably starts out tasting like any other mass-marketed light lager. However it begins to degrade the second it leaves the assembly line because the clear bottles allow ultraviolet light to penetrate into the beverage unimpeded, and it continues to degrade while traveling great distance to market.

11 Replies to “Corona’s Corona”

  1. It’s no three-mile boulevard, but Santa Cruz CA has an interesting neighborhood laid out in concentric circles:

    It’s centered around a church I believe. Not sure what the history behind the neighborhood is.

    (Oh, and hi from a new reader, by the way.)

    1. Lots of good comments coming in — and good examples of perfectly circular roads.

      Matthew: Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Michael Jackson (the writer) passed away in August 2007. May I suggest you crack two Belgians to catch up with the years that have passed (Kasteel Brun and Chimay Grande Réserve perhaps?).

      Jesse: Welcome. Meeting new readers is always a pleasure. Your concentric circle neighborhood in Santa Cruz seems to have a labyrinth feel to it. The street names are great too — Errett Circle; Wilkes Circle; Walk Circle; Bethany Curve. Right at the middle is The Circle Church which certainly really ties together the whole labyrinth theme. Outstanding.

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      Hamish: Indeed a fine circle there at the University of Victoria. What a fine way to define the boundaries and minimize walking time between classes, although it appears the campus is starting to grow beyond its original borders?

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  2. I used to commute to Corona, from Claremont, back in summer of 1991. A nice, hot southern California city from what I recall. I don’t recall driving on Grand Blvd. but I presume I must have done so at some point on my commute. It’s right in the middle of the city.

    Michael Jackson the beer writer is now, also, the LATE Michael Jackson? Oh man, that’s news to me. I’ll have to crack open a nice Belgian ale in his honor…

  3. Have a look at the University of Victoria campus in Victoria, British Columbia. It is all in a perfect circle with a diameter of 2000 ft or so (according to google maps).

    Love the blog.

    1. Funny, I was thinking about the same thing this morning. Remember the “12” in the Twelve Mile Circle is the radius so the circumference would be 2 * ~3.14 * 12 = 75.36 miles, which makes the task even more difficult. Would that make it 1000 points times 2π? I think the Hadron Super Collider has a circumference of only about 17 miles so this may be a difficult assignment. 😉

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