My uncle who was 67 years old at the time of his visit from Japan was here in Los Angeles for the first time. He did some organized tours of Santa Monica, Hollywood & Beverly Hills. My mom drove him down to an Indian casino near San Diego and they plan to drive up to San Francisco tomorrow. So, today, we went to Olvera Street. We also had lunch there which gave my uncle an opportunity to try Mexican food for the first time. Unfortunately, the weather was extremely, extremely hot. So, we really couldn't hang out too long there. Anyway, it seemed quite lively and it's always very colorful. You could spend an hour or two there and it's more than enough time to check the place out.
See my travelogue for more photos.
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 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.
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.
Built by Philippe Garnier from France. It was the oldest and most important building of the original Chinatown that housed important Chinese businesses and associations. Part of the building was lost due to the freeway in the 1950's that now houses the Chinese American Museum.
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.
This wonderful building was one of seven buildings associated with the Italian community from 1855-1930s. It was used for many political and social functions. Up towards the roofline is a mural painted by David Alfaro Siquieros "América Tropical" on the south exterior wall in 1932. It was considered controversial and ordered whitewashed. Its being restored.
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."
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
Built on the old site of the old Los Angeles Gas Company. It was the Braun Drug Company showroom and Brunswig Drug Company. Acquired by Los Angeles County in 1946, along with the Vickrey/Brunswig building next door. Used in the 50's as Los Angeles County employees and a Sheriff's crime laboratory. After the 1971 earthquake the facades were removed and it went into decay. The buildings are being retored to their former glory and will be part of the soon-to-open Plaza de Cultura y Artes.
Antonio Pelanconi who owned the Pelanconi House, now the La Golondrina Restaurant on Olvera Street. He had the old winery built, but he died in 1879. His widow carried on in his footsteps in business. The building was subdivided and in 1930 the El Paseo Inn moved into the southern end. Now there are administrative offices and an art gallery.
This was the former home of Isaias W. Hellman a prominent Los Angeles and San Francisco banker. It was eventually sold to tenant and important Chinese businessman Quon How Shing in 1920, but eventually became part of El Pueblo historical site 1953. The Las Angelitas del Pueblo volunteer group live here now and they offer free tours of El Pueblo de Los Angeles and the el Pueblo Education Center.