Last visit November 2012
Although a bit of a tourist trap, Olvera Street is still a lovely place to stop for a short visit if you find yourself in downtown LA. Olvera Street is a pedestrian only street that is only about a block long, stuffed full with Mexican eateries, both sit down and take out, and Mexican craft stores. You can't walk down the street smelling that delicious food and not stop to have a taste. On my last visit in November 2012, I sat down at La Golondrina, a popular restaurant about midway on the street.
In November 2012, Olvera Street was decorated for Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which is celebrated November 1-2, with some family shrines in the plaza area, the stores selling items with skulls and skeletons, many people with life-death makeup, half of the face covered in skeleton makeup.
Olvera Street is home to the Avila Home, built in 1818, considered the oldest building in LA. Admission to the house, decorated as it might have been in the 1840s, is free.
There are several parking lots in the area, I didn't feel like trying to drive around and find a free space so I used one of the lots, the lot I found was a flat fee of $6 on a Saturday (April 2007). You can also take the metro to Union Station and Olvera Street is a very short walk from there.
Please see my travelogue for a few more photos of the area.
The Avila Adobe was built in 1818 and is said to be the oldest existing house in LA.
The house is beautifully preserved and now appears, fully furnished, as it might have looked in the late 1840's. It is now part of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument.
The house is open for viewing daily between 9am and 3pm. Admission is free and it is well worth a good viewing. Even the garden is set with cacti and it reminded me that this is really all desert. There's an opportunity to leave a voluntary contribution.
It is accessed from Olvera Street and I am sure you will fall in love with that street just as I did. I'll write a seperate tip on that.
It's original name was Wine street, but in 1877 the street was extended and the name was changed to Agustin Olvera the first county judge of Los Angeles who had a home at the end of the street across from the Plaza. The beautiful huge cross was erected at the south end of the street, along with many of the beautiful huge trees you see today. The Olvera Street opened Easter Sunday (April 20), 1930.
When Christine Sterling first saw Olvera Street in 1926, she was appalled with the condition of the decaying buildings. This wonderful lady went on a mission to save this whole area of El Pueblo. She raised awareness and the funds to renovate and now it is famous for many yearly celebrations such a Cico De Mayo and so many more wonderful celebrations. It's market place has some wonderful restaurants and souvenir shops. It is the hub of many daily community activities.
The L.A. story begins here! Calle Olvera (Olvera St) is a vibrant part of El Pueblo de Los Angeles, right off Union Station and close to the 101 freeway- so easy to arrive here! The area is known as the official birthplace of the city of the Angels. Originally, the Native American Tongva nation settled here in the L.A basin.
Mexican culture flourishes here, however, there are hints of Chinese and Italian influence with nearby Chinatown (which actually was originally on Olvera St) and Little Italy (which is slowly resurfacing but is as of yet not in your face) .
Often deemed a tourist trap, the calle is bustling equally with neighborhood dwellers and tourists alike. OK, first time here, go ahead and get you a pancho, sombrero or cute pequeño Mex trinket. But please avoid getting to obvious fake merchandise like Dora the Explorer purses and other suspect branded paraphenalia.
If hungry there are about half a dozen quick service taco/burrito stands from which to choose but more notably for the restaurant experience, Casa La Golondrina and El Paseo are the classic choices here.
On weekends, there is sure to be live Mariachi music and other cultural presentations in the plaza. Many of the events are conducted in Spanish, but even if your espanol is muy mal, the rich live music transcends language.
This was the first fire house in Los Angeles that was equipped with fire-fighting equipment and housing for personnel. It is Engine Company No. 1 and was home for the first volunteer firefighters of Los Angeles. It housed the first 38 volunteers, a horse cart and 3 horses for two years. Sadly the firehouse moved out in 1892 due to a legal problems. It served as a saloon, boarding house, drugstore and vegetable market over the years. In 1953 like many of the wonderful buildings here became part of El Pueblo Historical Monument. It since has been restored and opened as a museum in 1960. It contains beautiful fire fighting equipment, historic photographs and maps.
Also located here is an California Historical Marker No#730 Old Plaza Firehouse, the plaque reads: "Dedicated to the firemen of the Los Angeles Fire Department-past, present, and future-who, by their courage and faithful devotion to duty, have protected the lives and property of the citizens of Los Angeles from the ravages of fire since 1871. This was the first building constructed as a fire station in Los Angeles. Built in 1884, it served as a firehouse until 1897. After this it was used for various purposes until restored in 1960 and opened as a museum of fire-fighting equipment of the late 19th century."
Olvera Street is considered the birthplace of Los Angeles and there you will have to find the statue of its pioneer governor (at the Plaza of Overa St) with this caption:
Felipe de Neve
“Spanish governor of the Californias, 1775-82. In 1781 on the orders of King Carlos III of Spain, Felipe de Neve selected a site near the river Porciuncula and laid out the town of El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles, one of 2 Spanish pueblos he founded in Alta California”
King Carlos of Spain ordered de Neve to establish a town along the river where Father Juan Crespi met some Indians. This was probably the first planned town in North America which later grew to be the great Los Angeles area!
And after seeing the statue, enjoy the several tacos to be had at outdoor cafes on Olvera Street, also known as El Pueblo Hisotric Monument. There are also several Mexican souvenir shops.
El pueblo de los angeles is actually like a theme park, on the area (covering 44 acters) where Los Angeles was founded back in 1781 by spanish. The Mexico took over the place (1822-1847). You can still see around here some of the oldest buildings in the city. The oldest one is the Avila Adobe(pic 1). It was built in 1818 by Don F. Avila, a wealthy ranchero. There’s no entrance fee so if you pass by from 9.00 to 16.00 take a look, you will travel back in time for a while. At 845 N.Alameda street you can visit the Sepulveda House. It was built in 1887 in Victorian style with 22 rooms. In our days it houses a small museum about the history of El Pueblo and also is a Visitors Center.
Most of the tourists come here for the Olvera street(pic 2), a tourist trap probably but funny enough if you want to feel that you are in Old Mexico. There are dozen of coloful gifts stalls selling weird dolls, cancles, small guitars and sombreros but also small restaurants with Spanish speaking staff. Most of the stores are open 10.00-19.00. We listened some mariachi (!), we ate our burritos and then we walked a bit around the area, we saw the Pico House(pic 3) that was the first three story building, a top class hotel in late 19th century and took some pics of the church Nuestra Senora Reina (pic 4) and relaxed at La Plaza(pic 5), the square that was the epicentre of the business that era and now the epicentre of the events (usually dancing and singing)
Pio Pico was the last governor of Mexican California that sold his land in the San Fernando Valley to be able to build his grand hotel that was Los Angeles' first three story building. The hotel once boasted as the "finest hotel in Southern California," with "bathrooms and water closets for both sexes" on every floor that had 82 bedrooms, 21 parlors, two interior courtyards and a French restaurant. Sadly he lost the hotel by foreclosure in 1880. Served as the National Hotel from 1892-1920. Its been restored and used for cultural events.
This was the center of social, political and business life during the Spanish (1781-1821) and Mexican (1821-1847) eras. This location is the third and final location during the 1800's. This still is the center of many social festivities and celebrations. The day we were visiting they were holding some dancing activities. They had a very lovely nativity set in the gazebo.
The mural is painted on 300 1' ceramic tiles by Eduardo Carrillo
Eduardo Carrillo created a mural in 1977 replicating when the Bell of Dolores was rang by Father Hidalgo on the morning of September 16, 1810, signaling the beginning of Mexico's Wars of Independence from Spain of Mexico's Wars of Independence from Spain. The figures are Dona Josefa Dominguez, Jose Maria Morelos, Captain Ignacio Allende, and Juan de Aldama.
Built by Don Francisco Ávila, which was a wealthy ranchero. The Avila Adobe is the oldest building in Los Angeles. It housed the Commodore Robert Stockton's military headquarters in 1847 during the Mexican-American War. Saved from demolition in 1926 by Christine Sterling, it was restored by 1930. It was furnished from Avila family who still had some of the original furnishing. Christine Sterling moved into the adobe and gave tours of the wonderful structure till her death in 1963. It still houses an excellent museum depicting what life was like in the 1840's.
Open: Tuesday through Friday, 10 A.m. to 3 p.m. and weekends 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
This gorgeous building was built for commercial and residential use. The building housed the Braun Drug company in 1897, which became the Brunswig Drug Company in 1907. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Departments crime laboratory was here 1940s-1960s. It survived a terrible fire and decay, but has been lovingly restored and will be part of the soon-to-open Plaza de Cultura y Artes.
Built on the once site of Juan Sepulveda's adobe, it served as the United Methodist Church Conference headquarters, the Plaza Community Center and the Consulate-General of Mexico. Named after Eugene Biscailuz, a former Los Angeles Sheriff in 1968 since he had helped Christine Sterling to save this historic section of Los Angeles. It houses the Mexican Cultural Institute and visitors can also enjoy the Institute's Spanish-language Bookstore, Resource Center/Library, Art Gallery with an exhibition of paintings by emerging Mexican artist Jose Ramirez from Los Angeles
The "Bell of Dolores" is a replica that was given by Mexico in 1968 to Los Angeles. It represents Mexico's bid for freedom in 1810 when Father Hidalgo rang the bell which started the Mexican revolution against Spain.
The heart of LA - this is where it all began, back in 1781. This is where the original city was founded. Of course, back then, Los Angeles was actually El Pueblo de La Reina de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles and was the capital of Alta Mexico, prior to becoming a state. It has definitely changed quite a bit since then, especially after the revitalization of this part of town in 1930 to become Olvera Street. Many of the historic buildings are still standing, including the oldest brick building in Los Angeles. This is a great place to walk around and enjoy the Mexican culture that it still celebrates. There are little shops everywhere and great restaurants! There is usually live music at the plaza and the air is just filled with this feeling of being in a simpler time where people are not caught up in rushing from place to place.