Olvera Street (Calle Olvera or Placita Olvera) is a historic district in downtown Los Angeles, and a part of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument. Los Angeles was officially founded in 1781, Olvera Street obtained its current name in 1877. Many of the Plaza District's Historic Buildings are on Olvera Street, as well as some of the oldest Los Angeles monuments including the Avila Adobe built in 1818, Pelanconi House built in 1857, and the Sepulveda House built in 1887. The tree-shaded, pedestrian mall marketplace with craft shops, restaurants and roving troubadours is a popular tourist destination. The street has been described as a "Top Five" in the "Great Streets of America" journal.
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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 had come 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 lasted until Mexican independence in 1821. This period saw Los Angeles's first streets and adobe buildings. During Mexican rule, which lasted 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 Agustin Olvera, the first Superior Court Judge of Los Angeles County, who owned a no longer existing adobe house nearby. In the 1880s, the little 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 expanded, the original area of settlement came to be neglected, and served as a neighborhood for new immigrants, especially Mexicans and Sicilians. It included a Chinese community, which eventually relocated to the present nearby Chinatown to make way for the construction of Union Station. During the 1920s, the pace of Mexican immigration increased rapidly. California was the primary destination, with Los Angeles being a common choice. As a part of a movement to preserve what was viewed as California's "authentic" heritage, Christine Sterling began a public campaign to renovate the Francisco Avila Adobe, which evolved into a campaign to remake Olvera street as a modern Mexican-style market place.
Preservation and restoration
Sterling's efforts to rescue the area began in 1926, when she learned of a plan to demolish the Avila Adobe, the oldest existing home in the city. After raising the issue with the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Sterling approached Harry Chandler, the publisher of the Los Angeles Times, with a plan to create a Mexican marketplace and cultural center in the Plaza. Chandler was intrigued by the idea of packaging the Plaza area that acknowledged the Mexican heritage of the city while presenting a romanticized ersatz version, an ethnic theme park. He helped by providing extensive publicity and supporting the development plan in The Times.
However, by 1928, due to a lack of financial support for implementing her ideas, the project appeared to be doomed. In late November, Sterling discovered a Los Angeles City Health Department Notice of Condemnation posted in front of the Avila Adobe. In response, she posted her own hand-painted sign condemning the shortsightedness of city bureaucrats in failing to preserve an important historic site. Her act helped attract additional public interest in preserving the old adobe. The Los Angeles City Council finally reversed its original order of condemnation. Support for restoring the adobe rushed in from throughout the city. Building materials came from several local companies, including Blue Diamond Cement and the Simmons Brick Company, one of the largest employers of Mexicans in the Los Angeles area. Los Angeles Police Chief James Davis provided a crew of prison inmates to do hard labor on the project. Sterling oversaw the entire construction project, and an excerpt from her diary vividly captures her spirit and sense of desperation for financial support during the construction: "One of the prisoners is a good carpenter, another an electrician. Each night I pray they will arrest a bricklayer and a plumber."
In spite of ample supplies and forced volunteers, the project lacked solid financial backing until Chandler came forward with capital for the project through funds collected at $1,000-a-plate luncheons with selected businessmen. Chandler established and headed the Plaza de Los Angeles Corporation, a for-profit venture which became the financial basis for the restoration of Plaza-Olvera. The street was closed to traffic in 1929.
On Easter Sunday 1930, Sterling's romantic revival came to pass with the opening of Paseo de Los Angeles (which later became popularly known by its official street name Olvera Street). Touted as "A Mexican Street of Yesterday in a City of Today", Olvera Street was an instant success as a tourist site. La Opinión, a leading Spanish language daily, praised the project as "una calleja que recuerda al México viejo" (a street which recalls old Mexico).
In present day, Olvera Street is home to more than three dozen restaurants, vendors, and public establishments.The American Planning Association named it one of the top five "Great Streets" in the United States for 2015. As part of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument which is on the National Register of Historic Places, they recognized that it was once the heart of Mexican farming and community life in the area.
Situated in the midst of Downtown in the area where the city was born in 1781, Olvera Street is home to dozens of craft shops, restaurants and businesses with roving troubadours. This pedestrian mall is a block-long narrow, tree-shaded, brick-lined marketplace where some merchants are descended from the original vendors who opened shops when Olvera Street was created in 1930. The exterior facades of the brick buildings enclosing Olvera Street and on the small vendor stands lining its center are colorful piñatas, hanging puppets in white peasant garb, Mexican pottery, serapes, mounted bull horns, and oversized sombreros. Olvera Street attracts almost two million visitors per year who can find the customs and trades of the Mexican and Latino traditions of Los Angeles commemorated in an walkable outdoor shopping mall. As a tourist attraction, Olvera Street pays homage to a romantic vision of old Mexico.
The plaza, before it was improved, can be seen in Charlie Chaplin's 1921 film The Kid, which featured a number of scenes of the west side of the plaza a few doors north of the Pelanconi House. At the time of the film, Olvera Street, then still called Wine Street, was seen as a dingy alley.
Some find Olvera Street to be a sanitized fabrication of Latin American culture merely to attract tourists, a "fake" Mexican presence; since 1926, it has garnered controversy as historians and collectors have attempted to preserve the sites for historic study and educational purposes. In contrast, there are researchers that often cite that Olvera Street is an "appropriated" misnomer of Latin-American and Hispanic culture, and should therefore not remain as a source of tourism. Even critics though, have acknowledged how the city fathers were ready to condemn and destroy the whole unsightly mess in the 1920s. The attention brought to the area shamed the city into saving its heritage and preserving some of the original adobe buildings. This tension around an idealized cultural image is evident in the mural América Tropical (full name: América Tropical: Oprimida y Destrozada por los Imperialismas, or Tropical America: Oppressed and Destroyed by Imperialism) by David Siqueiros which was slated to be an exciting addition to the street until it was actually unveiled in 1932. The mural was ignored and soon covered up to mask its political content that scandalized L.A. elites. The Getty Conservation Institute began performing detailed conservation work on the mural in 2010 and the America Tropical Interpretive Center opened to provide public access in 2012. The revitalization of downtown Los Angeles finally seemed to be reaching the area around Olvera Street when a $135-million development of 341 apartments with shops and community facilities was approved in 2014.
Blessing of the Animals
The Blessing of the Animals at Olvera Street, an event dating to 1930, is held every Sabado de Gloria (Holy Saturday, the Saturday before Easter). The event was originally held in conjunction with the Feast Day of Saint Anthony of the Desert, but it was changed to take advantage of better weather. The original procession has grown into an all-day event with vendors, performers, and a procession where participants bring their animals to be blessed by religious authorities and others.
The event includes an animal parade and informal displays of their pets and the event was covered in the book Blessing of the Animals: A Guide to Prayers & Ceremonies Celebrating Pets & Other Creatures.
Olvera Street is located in the east of modern-day Downtown Los Angeles, adjacent to both Union Station and Chinatown. It sits between Main and Alameda Street. Olvera Street consists of the Plaza and its parish church, with an alleyway branching from the main area; the street itself is home to vendors, restaurants, and historic sites and information.
The Plaza, adjacent to the alleyway of Olvera Street, is home to the origins of the city of Los Angeles. It is the forefront to the original Old Plaza Church, and has since housed street vendors, performance, and festivities.
The Avila Adobe is a housing structure located on Olvera Street, and is the oldest standing residence in the city of Los Angeles. It was built in 1818 by Francisco Avila, and has since then been registered as a California Historic Landmark. It was restored starting 1926 through efforts by Christine Sterling, and now stands as a museum.
The Sepulveda House is a historic residence built in 1887 by Señora Eloisa Martinez de Sepulveda. It has since then become a preserved museum, and is cited by its website as a representation of the "blending of Mexican and Anglo culture".
Representation in other media
- "Golondrina", an opera by Lindsey C. Harnsberger was composed in 2015 to a libretto by Robert Cartland. The opera, originally titled "Olvera Street," was premiered by Vineyard Touring Opera Company (VTO) in November 2017 in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and South Pasadena, California. It was revised and retitled in 2017 for April and May performances by VTO in Glendale and South Pasadena, California. The story of the opera is based on Christine Sterling's fight to save the Avila Adobe and later restore Olvera Street.
- Avila Adobe
- La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora Reina de los Angeles
- LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes
- Pueblo de Los Angeles
- Rancho Camulos
- Rancho San Francisco
- Zanja Madre
- History of Los Angeles
- List of Registered Historic Places in Los Angeles
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Los Angeles". Encyclopædia Britannica. 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 14.
- Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration of Northern California (1939). California: A Guide to the Golden State. New York: Hastings House. p. 210. Retrieved 31 May 2018.
- Yenne, Bill (2004). The Missions of California. San Diego, CA.: Thunder Bay Press. ISBN 1-59223-319-8.
The "pobladores" were mostly of mixed raced ancestry, which included Spanish, Indian, and even African
- "La Opinión | Últimas Noticias de Los Ángeles, EEUU, y El Mundo". laopinion.com (in Spanish). Retrieved 2016-12-14.
- Branson-Potts, Hailey (October 2, 2015). "L.A.'s Olvera Street recognized as a top 'Great Street' in America". Los Angeles Times.
- Brooks, Nancy Rivera (November 29, 1991). "NEIGHBORHOOD SHOPPING : Olvera Street: The Flavors of Mexico". Los Angeles Times.
- Sewell, Abby (October 28, 2014) "Downtown's development boom nears historic Olvera Street" Los Angeles Times
- Marshall, Colin (November 5, 2013) "A Los Angeles Primer: Olvera Street" KCET Departures blog
- Kropp, Phoebe (2001). "Citizens of the Past? Olvera Street and the Construction of Race and Memory in 1930's Los Angeles". Radical History Review. 81: 34–60.
- Parra, Alvaro (September 13, 2013) "Olvera Street: The Fabrication of L.A.'s Mexican Heritage" KCET What's in a street name
- Morrison, Patt (October 10, 2012) "Olvera Street's missing mural, then and now" Los Angeles Times
- Del Barco, Mandalit. Revolutionary Mural To Return To L.A. After 80 Years. npr. October 26, 2010. Retrieved June 18, 2015.
- Hernandez, Daniel (September 22, 2010) "America Tropical': A forgotten Siqueiros mural resurfaces in Los Angeles [Updated]" Los Angeles Times
- Rondeau, Ginette Calendar Olvera Street Website Accessed 15 November 2014
- Blessing of the Animals: A Guide to Prayers & Ceremonies Celebrating Pets & Other Creatures
- California, California State Parks, State of. "AVILA ADOBE". ohp.parks.ca.gov. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
- "Sepulveda House : El Pueblo De Los Angeles : The City of Los Angeles". elpueblo.lacity.org. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Olvera street.|
- Olvera Street Merchants Olvera Street
- El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument. City of Los Angeles.
- Guerrero, Diana L. Blessing of the Animals, 2007