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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 Downtownmarker Los Angelesmarker, Californiamarker, and is part of the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monumentmarker. Many Latinos refer to it as "La Placita Olvera." Circa 1911 it was described as Sonora Town.

Having started as a short lane, Wine Street, it was extended and renamed in honor of Agustín Olvera, a prominent local judge, in 1877. There are 27 historic buildings lining Olvera Street, including the Avila Adobe, the Pelanconi House and the Sepulveda House. In 1930, it was converted to a colorful Mexicanmarker marketplace. It is also the setting for Mexican style music and dancing and holiday celebrations, such as Cinco de Mayo.

History

Early days

Los Angelesmarker was founded in 1781 on a site southeast of Olvera Street near the Los Angeles River by a group of Spanishmarker pobladores (settlers), consisting of 11 families — 44 men, women and children, led by Don Fernando Rivera y Moncada, Lt. Governor of the Californias and accompanied by a contingent of soldiers — who had set out from the nearby Mission San Gabriel Arcángelmarker to establish a secular pueblo along the banks of the Porciúncula River at the Indian village of Yang-na. The initial settlement was dubbed El Pueblo de Nuesta Señora Reina de los Ángeles. To provide for the religious needs of the settlers, priests from San Gabriel established an asistencia (a sub-mission), the Nuestra Señora Reina de los Angeles Asistenciamarker. As the town grew it eventually built its own parish church, which is today know as the "Old Plaza Churchmarker." Unpredictable flooding forced settlers to move the town to higher ground. The town, complete with a church and rectangular plaza surrounded by house lots and planting fields, was placed in its current location in the early 1800s. Spanish colonial rule lasted until 1820. This period saw the first streets and adobe buildings of the town constructed. The town came under the control of newly independent Mexicomarker in 1821. During this time of Mexican rule, which lasted until 1848, the Plaza area was the heart of Mexicanmarker community life in Los Angeles and center of an economy based upon cattle ranching and agriculture.

Hard times

Men and women gather around the "Old Plaza Church" sometime between 1890 and 1900.
Faint impressions of paintings on the exterior of the building are evident.
Signs on nearby commercial buildings read: "Saloon and Restaurant, Home Brewery" and "F.W.
Braun and Co., Druggist."
For a time after the Mexican-American War and Gold Rush the Plaza remained the center of a diverse town. The central street of the Plaza, Vine or Wine Street, was extended and 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 and long time Olvera Street resident. In the 1880s Los Angeles began quick expansion through a massive influx of Anglo and European settlers who arrived via the railroad. The old Plaza area became a forgotten remnant of the city's roots, and the remaining adobe and brick buildings within the Plaza area fell into disrepair as the civic center of the city shifted to present-day Temple and Main Streets. A few of the street's buildings that were put up during this era, like the Sepulveda House (1880s) and Italian Hall (1907) actually had their backs facing Olvera while the front doors were on Main Street, furthering the character of the street as a mere alley.A good view of the street during this period is to be found in Charlie Chaplin's 1921 film The Kid, which featured a number of scenes in it, mostly on the west side a few doors north of the Pelanconi House. At the time of the film, years before its makeover by Christine Sterling, it was hardly considered to be a proper street, but rather just a dingy, dirty alley.

Its decline as the center of civic life led to its reclamation by diverse sectors of the city's poor and disenfranchised. The Plaza served as a gateway for newly arrived immigrants, especially Mexicans and Italians. During the 1920s, the pace of Mexican immigration into the United States increased to about 500,000 per year. Californiamarker became the prime destination for Mexican immigrants, with Los Angeles receiving the largest number of any city in the Southwest. As a result of this dramatic demographic increase, a resurgence of Mexican culture occurred in Los Angeles. It was within this social and political climate that Christine Sterling began her public campaign to save the old Francisco Avila Adobe from demolition and build up Olvera Street as a center of Mexican romance and tourism.

Preservation and restoration



Sterling's efforts to rescue the Plaza-Olvera area began in 1926, when she discovered the deteriorated conditions of the area, and in particular the Avila Adobe, the oldest existing home in the city. After raising the issue of the Avila Adobe with the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Sterling approached Harry Chandler, the scion of the Los Angeles Times with a plan to restore the building and create a colorful Mexican marketplace and cultural center in the Plaza. Chandler was intrigued by Sterling's idea for restoring the Plaza area as a mixture of romance and capitalism, 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 fading. 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.

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 Mexico viejo.

Present

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

In the midst of Downtownmarker industrialization, Olvera Street is a quaint, colorized, and non-confrontational environment. Olvera Street is successful in depicting the quaintness of Mexican culture. The Avila Adobe aside, however, the buildings on the street date from at least a hundred 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.

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.

Blessing Of The Animals

The Blessing Of The Animals is a traditional event dating back to 1930 that is held every Easter Saturday. Those who participate bring their animals to be blessed by religious authorities and others. The event includes an animal parade an informal displays of their pets.

See also



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