Olvera Street is a world-famous block-long quaint Mexican-style marketplace lined on both sides and down the center with cafes, restaurants and gift shops selling Mexican food and merchandise.
Several historic buildings including the oldest building in Los AngelesAvila Adobe and Sepúlvda Houseare here.
One of the oldest streets in the City of Los Angeles, Olvera Street was originally a short lane called Wine (or possibly Vine) Street.
Renamed in 1877 in honor of the area's first County Judge, Agustin Olverawho lived there. The area prospered as immigrants flooded the neighborhood around the Old Plaza.
When the professional heart of the city moved southwards buildings on the street fell into disrepair and both Olvera Street and the area surrounding the Old Plaza became an urban slum.
Olvera Street’s transition from skid row to popular tourist destination began when Mrs. Christine Sterling, who cherished the Spanish and Mexican heritage of the city and recognized the value of the historic buildings, mobilized other wealthy citizens to rescue the historic Avila Adobe from destruction after it had been condemned by the city.
She was aided in her efforts by Harry Chandler who provided publicity in The Los Angeles Times. Mrs. Sterling convinced Chandler, Henry O’Melveny, Lucien Brunswig, General H. H. Sherman, James R. Martin and Rodolfo Montes to form a corporation to revitalize Olvera Street. Each of them contributed $5,000 and Plaza de Los Angeles, Inc. was formed. Many companies contributed materials and the Chief of Police donated prisoner’s labor.
Success was initially elusive but Avila Adobenow the oldest house in Los Angeleswas restored and Olvera Street was closed to vehicular traffic in 1929. Paseo de Los Angeles (later popularly known by its official street name, Olvera Street) opened as a colorful Mexican Marketplace on Easter Sunday in 1930.
The center of Olvera Street is filled with stands that sell items crafted in Mexico or snack food such as churros, empanadas or dulce de calabasa. Restaurants, cafes and larger shops line both sides of the short street. You can even have your picture taken astride a stuffed burro.
In addition to Avila Adobe several other historic buildings line the street but have their fronts facing North Main Street. They include the Sepúlveda Housean 1887 Eastlake Victorian now a combination museum and visitors center and the1855 Pelanconi Houseoldest brick house in the city and one of four structures on Olvera built by Italians.
An Italian Hall opened on the northwest side of the street in 1908. A controversial mura, Américan Tropical, painted in 1932 on the second story south facing wall of the Italian Hall by well known Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros has been restored and a viewing platform, accessible by elevator or stairs through the América Tropical Interpretive Center, located in Sepulveda House, provides the public with access to the mural.
A listing and many additional photos of the various businesses on either side, down the center of Olvera Street and around the Old Plaza can be found on the Calle Olvera website. You can also pick up a flyer with this information at the Visitor Center in the Sepúlveda House.
There is a large cross at the south end of Olvera Street, on the north-east side of the Plaza. It is a replica of one that Mrs. Sterling commissioned for the commemoration of the city’s 148th birthday in 1929. The original was donated to the Plaza Catholic Church.
The cross displays the name Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles which is incorrect. "Nuestra Sonora" was never part of Los Angeles’ original name.
A 1897 sandstone trough is at the opposite (north) end of Olvera Street. It was placed under a ficus nitida tree planted during initial renovation by the Department of Water and Power. The path of the original zanja madre, “mother ditch,” which provided water to the city since its founding in 1781 is represented by diagonal bricking as it crosses Olvera Street.
Mrs. Christine Sterling, the "Mother of Olvera Street" died in the Avila Adobe on June 21, 1963.
The renewal and revival that she began with Avila Adobe and Olvera Street continues. The area surrounding the Old Plaza became a state historic parkEl Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monumentin 1953.
Avila Adobe on Olvera Street is the oldest surviving house in Los Angeles. Constructed around 1818 it appears today the way it might have looked in the late 1840's.
Senor Francisco Avila and his family were one of the more prosperous ranching families that built town houses around El Pueblo de la Reina de los Angeles plaza to attend mass, visit friends and manage business affairs. A native of Sinaloa, Mexico Don Francisco owned the Rancho Las Cienegas near the La Brea Tar Pits. He became the alcalde, or mayor, of Los Angeles in 1810.
His family lived in the house now known as the Avila Adobe until 1868, though it was occupied for awhile by Commodore Robert F. Stockton during the peace negotiations following the Mexican-American War in early 1847.
The Adobe was rented to several families, became a boarding house and deteriorated along with the rest of Olvera Street to the point that the city had condemned it. It was in this condition that Mrs. Christine Sterling discovered it and began a public program to rescue and restore the Avila Adobe and surrounding area. Photographs and historical information are on display just outside the entrance to the free Avila Adobe museum.
Once renovated Mrs. Sterling lived in the house, giving tours to visitors until her death in 1963. The Sylmar earthquake of 1971 damaged the building causing it to be closed until 1977 when it was once again opened to the public.
The Avila Adobe has a full length porch on Olvera Street, a courtyard behind the house (visitors enter from here) and six rooms in the interior.The courtyard was used as kitchen, garden, work and play area.
The largest room in the house, and the room first encountered upon entering, is the family room. A black lacquer table in the room is originalpossibly a1822 wedding present for Doña Encarnación. Don Francisco Avila married fifteen-year-old Maria Encarnación after his first wife (Maria del Rosario Verdugo) died leaving him with three children to care for.
The other rooms in the Avila Adobe are an officewhere a rancher’s most important piece of equipment—his saddle is on display, the kitchenwhich was used as a storeroom for cooking utensils and food as all cooking was done outside until the fireplace was added in the 1850's, the parents bedroom, children’s room and parlor or sitting room which was used only on special occasions.
The Sepúlveda house, built in 1887, represented the transformation of Los Angeles from purely Mexican traditions to a combination of both Mexican and American culture. Its design was based on an American concept (Eastlake style Victorian) while the breezeway and arrangement of rooms at the rear reflect the Mexican tradition of an inner courtyard.
The building was designed by architects George F. Csoterisan and William O. Merithew who were hired by Senora Eloisa Martiniez de Sepúlveda. Señora Sepúlveda received the property from her mother, Señora Francisca Gallardo who had built a traditional one story Adobe house on the property between Vine Street (later renamed Olvera Street) and Bath Street (later renamed North Main Street).
As originally constructed Sepúlvda House included twenty two rooms; two with commercial stores in front on the Main Street side and three private dwelling rooms on Olvera Street. A boarding house with one bathroom and fourteen bedrooms along a center hallway lit by two skylights occupied the second floor.
Today the building houses the Monument's Visitors’ Center and gift shop where you can schedule tours, pick up maps and brochures and view a free 18 minute film Pueblo of Promise.
The Visitor Center in the Sepúlveda House is open Monday to Saturday 10 am 3 pm.
There is also Kitchen Exhibitrepresenting a boarding house kitchen of the 1890’s and Señora Sepúlveda’s Bedroomat the back of the house with it's window overlooking Olvera Street.
At the front of the building there is a Gallery with art, artifacts and documents celebrating the history and culture of Los Angeles.
Señora Sepúlveda lived in the back rooms until she died in 1903, although she had deeded the building to a favorite niece, Eloisa Martinez de Gibbs in 1901. As with the rest of the area the Sepúlveda House eventually fell into disrepair until it was renovated by Mrs. Christine Sterling as part of her plan save Olvera Street.
Slideshow—all photos on this page
Website and all photos copyright © 2001–2016 Lee W. Nelson