Happy Birthday Los Angeles!!!! September 2018 will mark the 237th anniversary of its founding. Despite its exponential growth – from 44 people back in 1781 to nearly 4 million today – the soul of this metropolis has been preserved from modern development. Is it downtown LA? No, this jewel from the past is located in El Pueblo.
There, the first settlers built a community as a traditional Mexican village: a central plaza with a marketplace: El Plaza and Olvera Street, adobes surroundings: Avila Adobe, and a church: Placita Catholic Church. This Hispanic heritage, combined with modern Latino cultural influence (museum, culture, arts, festivals, etc.) make El Pueblo a landmark of Los Angeles history and the Soul of the city past.
A pinch of History
- Los Angeles was founded on September 4th, 1781.
- Eleven families (22 adults and 22 children) came from northwest Mexico to establish “El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles” (the Town of the Queens of the Angels)
- The descendants of these original settles are called Los Pobladores (the townspeople)
- Christine Sterling, the Mother of Olvera Street, led the preservation and renovation of the area in 1930.
El Pueblo’s roots go back to Felipe de Neve, governor of Spain’s California, who started a pueblo following King Carlos III orders. Settling with families, priests and soldiers began along the coast to develop Spanish authority in the region. Indeed, Spain was competing with others countries like England and Russia to conquer North America. The Spanish crown promised lands, free taxes, etc. to encourage people to settle in Alta California. It took two years for Felipe de Neve to gather 44 peoples to move to the current area.
Traveling from Mexico, these settlers established in Los Angeles as the site gathered, at the time, multiple favorable conditions: river, mountains, and ocean. From scratch, they erected cattle ranches and built a new city: “El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles.”
Did you know? El Pueblo we enjoyed today is the 3rd site as the original one has been moved due to multiple flooding from the L.A. River.
El Plaza and Olvera Street, the central life of the town
El Plaza was the center of life in El Pueblo. Inhabitants gather for celebrations, festivals, to meet and chill, to discuss and gossips, etc. Today, El Plaza remains the epicenter of annual celebrations (see below).
The present Olvera Street stretches between Cesar E. Chavez Avenue and the Plaza. At the time, the street was called “Calle de las Vignas” (Wine street) and was shorter. This small street was restored in 1930 and converted into a Mexican marketplace. In the present day, it attracts a lot of tourists enjoying colorful vendors, restaurants, and café.
Avila Adobe, the Mayor house
As rancheros prospered trading cow hides and tallow, they erected townhouses around the Plaza. Working during the week in their ranch, they came for the weekend in these adobes to receive people, go to the mass and deal with business affairs.
The particularity of Avila Adobe is to be the oldest residence in Los Angeles. It was built in 1818 by Francisco Jose Avila (1772-1832), son of a Spanish soldier, who moved from Sinaloa (Mexico) to El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles around 1794. Thanks to the lands granted by the Mexican government (at the time Mexico was under Spain’s governance) he developed a profitable cattle ranch. He built this adobe to settle in Alta California with his family. Fun fact: he was mayor, “Alcade,” of this new growing city (365 inhabitants) in 1810.
Visiting this place gave me an example of living as a healthy ranchero family back in the days. Mexican and Spanish influence regarding the structure of the building and lifestyle is apparent. The adobe is shaped like an “L” and includes a large patio. The latter is an outdoor living space including an open-air kitchen, garden, vineyard, and courtyard.
Inside, the first thing I remembered is entering obscure rooms contrasting with the sunny bright daylight outside. The white painted walls is really massive and helped to control temperatures over the season: cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
The family room, the kitchen, bedrooms, the office, and the others rooms are mainly furnished with reproductions from the 1840s period. The equipment is simple and typical: wooden furniture, religious icons (painting and crucifixes), rugs, saddle, etc.
The master bedroom’s furniture reflects the trading business of the Alcala family: English and Italian commodes as the Chinese shawls on the bed.
Did you know? that water was precious back then? A “Zanja made” (open channel) brought water directly from the LA river strictly for daily life usage, not to display a fountain in the courtyard or flowers.
Placita Catholic Church and its Cemetery, the religious and sacred place
The Placita Catholic Church (La Iglesia Nuestra Senora La Reina de Los Angeles) is the oldest Church in Los Angeles completed in 1822. The original mission outpost can be traced back to 1784 but, due to too many floodings, it has been relocated later to the current site.
As I gazed up to the old facade, I observed a mosaic mural added for the bicentennial anniversary of the church. It represents the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary by the angel Gabriel. This mosaic is a replica from one Franciscan chapel in Italy.
As I step over the gate, I entered the courtyard. From there I went inside the chapel where a few people were praying. It was really quiet as I admired the beautiful altar and the architecture. It reminds me of some religious places in Europe and I imagined the historical importance of this chapel for the first settlers.
As I exited the courtyard, I passed by the new church built in 1965 to discover the Placita Church Cemetery. Protected by a fence and nestled by a garden this cemetery includes remains of the First Angelinos (Los Pobladores, Native Americans, and others settlers).
Did you know? Don’t be surprised if you observe a long line outside the church during the weekends. Indeed, people wait for baptism. Up to 400 can be celebrated in two days!
El Pueblo’s Annual Celebrations, fun, and fiesta
El Pueblo hosts numerous festivals all year long to celebrate Latino and Angelino’s culture and carry on traditions. Among the most popular there is El Dia de Los Muertos, the Blessing of the Animals, the Ecuador Independence Day, and L.A Happy Birthday. These events reunite locals and tourists for jovial, musical and foodies festivities.
Last year, I participated in the Ecuadorian Festival. I was thrilled to discover the Ecuadorian culture. Energy and joy were palpable as a band was playing on the central plaza and people were dancing around. At the same time, plenty of vendors were offering traditional food. I tasted hornado with llapingacho and mote for the first time, sooo good!
In my opinion, even if El Pueblo became touristy, it’s the place to explore in order to understand and learn about LA’s historic and cultural heritage and how a few people from Mexico started the megalopolis we know today.
Feel like discovering Los Angeles’ roots?
- Location: El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, 125 Paseo De La Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90012
- Cost: Free (donations accepted). 50 minutes walking tour from Tuesday through Saturday (10am, 11am, and 12pm).
- Duration: I spent the day to visit, eat and chill.
- Parking: public parking (up to $15 per day), street parking or metro (Union Station).
- More information available at http://elpueblo.lacity.org/