Historically, the Los Angeles region was called home by the Tongva (Gabrieleños) and Chumash Native Americans. Travelling from the nearby Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, 11 families of 44 men, women, and children and a handful of Spanish soldiers who accompanied them came to this area. These pobladores, or settlers, established the new town of El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles, which means “The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels.” This new town was comprised of the plaza, a small church and a small area surrounding them. From 1781-1821, the town was under the rule of the Spanish throne. For decades, it remained a small ranch town, until the Mexican war for independence. While lasting only 26 years, the Plaza saw a cultural explosion under Mexican rule and quickly became an important center for its residents and the surrounding areas. It was during this period that the town saw the construction of its first streets and adobe structures. After the Mexican-American war ended in 1848, Los Angeles was given to the United States. A small alley off of the plaza, originally named Wine Street, had its name changed by City Council to Olvera Street in 1877 in honor of Augustin Olvera, the first Superior Court Judge of Los Angeles County who owned a house nearby. As the town began to rapidly expand, this original area of settlement became neglected and became a neighborhood for immigrants, especially Mexicans. In the 1920’s, Mexican immigration to the United States exploded, and California was the most sought after destination to immigrate to, with Los Angeles being the common choice. In 1926, in a movement to preserve what was thought as California’s heritage, a woman named Christine Sterling decided to try to restore and preserve this former cultural center. According to Sterling, “Olvera Street at this time was not only a filthy alley but was a crime hole of the worst description… Bootleggers, white slave operators, dope peddlers all had headquarters and hiding places on the street.” With her help, the help of City Council, and the help of Mexican shop, restaurant, and café owners, on April 19, 1930, the new Olvera Street and Plaza were opened to the public. To this day, Olvera Street, now a historical monument and popular tourist destination, remains a bustling center of Mexican heritage and culture.
- Be sure to stop by Cielito Lindo for their world famous taquitos! A Los Angeles landmark serving authentic Mexican cuisine since 1934
- Another must see is the Avila Adobe house! Built in 1818, it’s the oldest standing residence in the city of Los Angeles. Its original restoration by Christine Sterling led the way to her revitalization of the entire street.
- Built with the remains of the original church in 1861, La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles served as a replacement chapel for the old church and was the sole Roman Catholic church in an expanding immigrant area of Los Angeles. It is across the street from the old plaza.
- Now a small museum, the Old Plaza Firehouse is the oldest fire station in Los Angeles.
- A unique stop that doesn’t necessarily reflect the surrounding area, the Gateway to Nature – Western National Parks Center provides visitors a unique experience that they might not get elsewhere. Here you can find products ranging from nature books to Native American handcrafted goods.