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Obituary: Harry Kagan Made Land Deals that Got State Freeways Going

By Steve Gibson
Sacramento Bee Staff Writer

When it came to acquiring land for California freeways nobody was better at it than Harry L. Kagan, who died in August of lymphoma.

Harry Kagen PictureAn affable, respected right-of-way expert whose career with Caltrans spanned four decades, Mr. Kagan obtained land for scores of projects, including the Century Freeway in Los Angeles and the Highway 85 Freeway in Santa Clara County.

The 84-year-old Sacramento resident operated a consulting firm, Kagan & Associates, for 10 years after retiring from Caltrans in 1988.

Born and raised in San Francisco, Mr. Kagan earned an undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley, before joining the Navy in World War II.

As a naval officer during the war, he served in both the European and Asia-Pacific theaters, assigned at various times to small patrol vessels, a minesweeper and a rescue-salvage ship.

Discharged as a lieutenant, he returned home and found work with the then-state Division of Highways in 1948 and was assigned to the right-of-way office. He moved to state headquarters in Sacramento in 1961.

Director Will Kempton called him "a very significant part of Caltrans history" whose compassion and diplomacy helped in his dealings with both property owners and members of the California Transportation Commission.

"He had this shuffle about him, this 'aw shucks' kind of approach, but he knew the rules and got the job done," Kempton said.

“At the same time, Mr. Kagan was known for his sensitivity in dealing with property owners whose land was being taken for freeway construction,” Kempton said.

"He was not some hard-core bureaucrat. He was a very compassionate individual," Kempton said.

Mr. Kagan was married twice. With his first wife, the former Sharon Proppe, he had a daughter. He married Mary Lynn Farrow in 1991.

(Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Steve Gibson and the Sacramento Bee for permission to reprint this article.)

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