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Sunday, June 30, 2019

Experiencing Los Angeles: Revisiting Calle Olvera

Olvera Street, or "Calle Olvera," is a one block historic street in downtown Los Angeles. It's listed as one of the "Top Five" in the "Great Streets of America" journal.

Never been? There's no really "bad" time to visit Olvera Street. Except, maybe, if it's raining. Which rarely happens between May - October (this past May being an exception). 

Thanks to a Mediterranean climate, which - within the United State - is unique to Southern California, Los Angeles will go a full six months no rain. Zero. Nada. Warm summer days and cool evenings is one of the reasons why people choose to live here. 

Sunny skies were certainly the case when I was visiting Olvera Street in late November 2017. I was over at Chinatown, and decided to walk the few extra blocks and stop by. 

These photos were taken the Saturday before Thanksgiving, hence the long shadows. 

Olvera Street is often called the oldest street in the City of Los Angeles. The truth is a little more complex. It is home to the oldest existing building, the Avila Adobe - built in 1818. 

Apparently, Los Angeles' original streets were located about a mile or so south. Near today's Pershing Square. Flooding from the nearby Los Angeles River forced the little settlement to move - twice. 

The 1818 Avila Adobe is the oldest surviving structure, built almost 40 years after the city's founding in 1781.

As an aside, the Avila Adobe is not the oldest building in Los Angeles County. That honor goes to the Gage Mansion, built in 1795 and located in the nearby City of Bell Gardens. 

Up until 1930, Olvera Street wasn't a street at all. It was a small, dingy alley. When the city considered demolishing the Avila Adobe 1920's, Christina Serling - a transplant from Northern California - stepped in, not only to save it, but transform the alley into an idealized Mexican marketplace. Here's a link to an excellent article from LA Weekly on the history of Olvera Street.

In that sense, the street is historic. It's what people - certainly, Anglos, 90 or so years ago - imagined early Los Angeles to look like.

Like many Angelenos, I have fond memories of school field trips to Olvera Street - especially in 4th grade, when kids in California focus on "California History." 

I also have good memories of taking my kids here several times when our family lived in L.A. Here's a link to some photos from a previous post with photos from 10 years ago. 

Meanwhile, these photos were all taken in late November. Great time to visit, in my opinion. 

In addition to traditional handcraft souvenirs, you'll find more contemporary touristy shirts, like this nod to L.A. Felix Chevrolet, located across the street from USC. 

Or "Los Doyers" - a play on a Spanish pronunciation of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Spanish doesn't have a "g" sound, and instead was pronounced as a "y" - hence "Doyers." What was originally a racist insult is now a point of pride. 

And, of course, handcraft goods, which haven been part of Olvera Street since it opened in 1930. 

In addition, there's several places to eat, including Casa La Golondrina, which my family and I have enjoyed. 

Love the cross. 

© 2019


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