In a rare mood, Southern Californians praised a freeway, instead of cursing it, as the "granddaddy of freeways" celebrated its 50th birthday Friday.

Though the 8.2-mile Pasadena Freeway, the first in the West, looks like a museum piece, the sunken six-lane freeway is among the state's safest, despite thrill-ride curves and floor-it, sudden-stop ramps.The first five-mile section of the freeway opened Dec. 30, 1940. In a small park beside one especially harrowing curve, the California Department of Transportation celebrated the anniversary with a sign denoting the span's significance.

Almost predictably, the celebration's marching band caused some passing motorists to swerve in the narrow-gauge lanes.

Joining the festivities were descendants of construction crew members and the Gabrielino Indians who transferred the land to the state in a 1940 ceremony, public officials and the University of Southern California Marching Band.

Sally Stanton Rubsamen, the 1940 Rose Queen who dedicated the ribbon of concrete a half-century ago, recalled trips to school using successively longer parts of the newly completed surface.

"It was a free-way then," she said.

Adding that she now commutes daily from Pasadena to Los Angeles, Rubsamen said: "The lanes are a bit narrow, it's a little curvy, it's beautiful, but some of the on-ramps and off- ramps are atrocious."

Nearly 130,000 cars a day roll over the Pasadena Freeway.