It was a mild and sunny day when I embarked on a day trip to one of the oldest surviving venues and the ‘birthplace’ of Los Angeles, the Olvera Street. Continuing on my cultural and artistic treasure hunt this has been a trip that’s long overdue in my thirty years living in California.
A brief history on Olvera Street courtesy of Wikipedia:
Los Angeles was founded in 1781 by Spanish pobladores (settlers), on a site southeast of today’s Olvera Street near the Los Angeles River. They consisted of 11 families — 44 men, women, and children — and were accompanied by a few Spanish soldiers. They came from nearby Mission San Gabriel Arcángel to establish a secular pueblo on the banks of the Porciúncula River at the Indian village of Yang-na. The new town was named El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora Reina de los Ángeles. Priests from San Gabriel established an asistencia (a sub-mission), the Nuestra Señora Reina de los Angeles Asistencia, to tend to their religious needs. The pueblo eventually built its own parish church, known today as the “Old Plaza Church.” Unpredictable flooding forced the settlers to abandon the original site and move to higher ground in the early 1800s. Spanish colonial rule, which began with territorial claims to the area as early as the 1500s and saw actual settlement from 1769, lasted until Mexican independence in 1821. This period saw Los Angeles’s first streets and adobe buildings. During Mexican rule, which lasted just twenty-six years, the Plaza was the heart of a vibrant ethnic Californio community life in Los Angeles and was the center of an economy based upon farming in the former flood plain, supplemented with cattle ranching. After the Mexican War, the Plaza remained the center of town. A small alley branching off of the Plaza—Wine Street—had its name changed by City Council ordinance in 1877 to Olvera Street to honor Augustín Olvera, the first Superior Court Judge of Los Angeles County, who owned an adobe house nearby. (The house no longer exists.) In the 1880s, the town grew rapidly due to the influx of settlers from Southern States. These joined the Spaniards and earlier English-speaking settlers who had become voting citizens before 1846. As the town grew outward, the historic original area of settlement came to be neglected, and began to serve as a neighborhood for new immigrants, especially Mexicans and Sicilians. This included a Chinese community which had to relocate to the present nearby Chinatown to make way for Union Station.
During the 1920s, the pace of Mexican immigration into the state increased rapidly. California was a primary destination with Los Angeles being a common choice. As a part of a movement that sought to preserve what was then seen as California’s “authentic” heritage, Christine Sterling began a public campaign to renovate Francisco Avila Adobe, which evolved into a campaign to remake Olvera street into a modern Mexican-style market place.
The day I decided to visit the Olvera Street in Los Angeles just happened to be Good Friday, so there were big crowds congregating in front of this old church, the Our Lady Queen of Angels Church, which is part of the old Spanish Mission line that stretches from San Diego to Sonoma, forming what is now known as the El Camino Real Trail. This bell below marks the checkpoint of the early Spanish pilgrimage:
My first stop led me to the gate of this old church. There was a mass just taking place, for the Good Friday, of course.
After a walk around the church I come upon the main courtyard of Old Pueblo de Los Angeles. Around were numerous historical buildings that have been standing since the beginning, and were well preserved, and their appearances certainly shows the architectural styles of the time. The rest of the day was spent strolling down the old avenue taking in the sights of history and culture of old Los Angeles:
One of the noted aspect of Olvera Street is the America Tropical mural painted in 1932 by Mexican artist David Siqueiros. It rests on the top walls of the Plaza Arts Center but due to its controversy it had been covered up four years later and stayed that way until the Getty Conservation Institute began efforts to restore it. An American Tropical Interpretation Center provides the background history of the mural as well as chronology of the artist’s life and career.
Once finished I continued down the trek through the busy promenade, going all the way to the end to the street and then coming back through the other side.
After the tour of the plaza the Union Station just happened to be across the street, and since I’ve heard they recently underwent renovations I thought I’d take a quick stroll down the building to view the Spanish infused Art Deco architecture:
So that was my day on the piece of Los Angeles history. There are plenty more historic monuments hidden in the midst of this fast moving ever changing city of California, but with little patience I’ll be sure to find them all.
For more information including tidbits about some of the sites mentioned here and others I’ve forgotten, visit olvera-street.com