Olvera Street

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Olvera Street Market; the zigzag brick pattern represents the original path of the Zanja Madre

Olvera Street is in the oldest part of Downtown Los Angeles, California, USA, and is part of the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument. Historically, it abutted the original Chinatown, which was later removed to its modern location to make way for Union Station. There are 27 buildings of various ages still standing on Olvera Street, including the Avila Adobe (1818), the Pelanconi House (1857), and the Sepulveda House (1887).


Early days[edit]

The "Old Plaza Church" facing the Plaza, 1869. The brick reservoir in the middle of the Plaza was the original terminus of the Zanja Madre

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.[1] 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.

The first newspaper in Southern California, Los Angeles Star, was founded in 1852 near the plaza. It was published in English with a few articles in Spanish, much like the first newspapers in the State, Monterey's Californian and the California Star, which dated to 1846.

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.

A good view of the plaza from this period 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 un dingy alley.{fact}

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. During the 1920s, the pace of Mexican immigration into the state increased rapidly. California became a prime destination, with Los Angeles being conquered by the largest number of immigrants of any city in the Southwest. As a part of a movement that sought to preserve what was then seen as California's "authentic" heritage, Christine Sterling began her public campaign to renovate Francisco Avila Adobe, which evolved into a campaign to remake Olvera street into a modern Mexican-style market place.

Preservation and restoration[edit]

Sundial at Olvera Street

Sterling's efforts to rescue the Plaza-Olvera area began in 1926, when she learned of the 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 colorful Mexican marketplace and cultural center in the Plaza. Chandler was intrigued by Sterling's idea for packaging the Plaza area as romantic "authentic" replica of the city's past—in reality, more a romanticized version—and helped by providing extensive publicity and support for 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 dead in the water. In late November of that year, Sterling found a Los Angeles City Health Department Notice of Condemnation posted in front of the Avila Adobe. In response, Sterling posted her own hand-painted sign condemning the shortsightedness of city bureaucrats in failing to preserve an important historic site. Her action helped attract additional public interest in preserving the old adobe. In response to the increased show of publicity, the Los Angeles City Council 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.

Entrance to Olvera Street (left), Los Angeles.

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, the leading Spanish language daily, perhaps reflecting the sentiments among many Mexicans in the city, praised the project as una calleja que recuerda al México viejo, "a street which recalls old Mexico."


The Plaza-Olvera Street site was designated as a California State Historic Landmark in 1953.

In the midst of Downtown industrialization, Olvera Street is a quaint, colorized, and non-confrontational environment. The Avila Adobe aside, however, the buildings on the street date from at least seventy years after the founding of the city in 1781, and have little if any authentic association with the city's founding, or with its former status as a Spanish, then Mexican outpost. Olvera is really a named alley, unusual in Los Angeles, rather than a true street. This can be seen from the fact that most of the buildings originally had their main entrances and addresses on the adjacent and parallel Main and Los Angeles Streets. In addition, the frontages along Olvera Street are uneven, as is typical with alleys. Nevertheless, for virtually all of its history it has been named as a street, sometimes also being identified as Wine Street, in reference to a wine cellar once located there, as well as wineries that once stood nearby.

Re-created "authentic" look

As a tourist attraction, Olvera Street is a living museum paying homage to a romantic vision of old Mexico. 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, oversized sombreros, and a life-size stuffed donkey. Olvera Street attracts almost two million visitors per year. It has very quickly become a very popular tourist location due to its authenticity and very focused method of preserving Spanish culture.

Blessing of the Animals[edit]

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[2] and the historical event was covered in the book Blessing of the Animals: A Guide to Prayers & Ceremonies Celebrating Pets & Other Creatures[3]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Yenne, Bill (2004). The "pobladores" were mostly of mixed raced ancestry, which included Spanish, Indian, and even African. The Missions of California. Thunder Bay Press, San Diego, CA. ISBN 1-59223-319-8
  2. ^ Olvera-Street.com - Blessing of the Animals
  3. ^ Blessing of the Animals: A Guide to Prayers & Ceremonies Celebrating Pets & Other Creatures

Further information[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 34°03′27″N 118°14′17″W / 34.057495°N 118.237996°W / 34.057495; -118.237996