love LA” certainly has a better ring to it than “I
love El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles
de la Porciúncula”. Maybe that’s why the name
has been shortened over the years to the point that now it’s
just two letters. This gives Los Angeles the distinction of
having both the longest and shortest name for a city in the US and
fourth longest in the world.
Prior to being dubbed that mammoth moniker by Don Fernando Rivera
own name a mouthful) and his band of forty-four Spanish
settlers back in 1781, the area was inhabited by the Tongva. The
Tongva territory covered all of what we now think of as Southern
California and the Channel Islands including Catalina.
journeying through The Golden State, we reckoned we
ought to see where The City of Angels got its start and that
meant a trip into the heart of downtown.
Nestled among the skyscrapers, train stations, bridges and parking
A tiny block of mixed up Spanish-Mexican-Anglo heritage right in
the middle of modern America.
spot has been the center of LA since the 1820s when the plaza
was built on the edge of what was then known as Wine Street.
The road was officially renamed Olvera Street in 1877 in honor
of Augustín Olvera, a Judge for Los Angeles County.
Nowadays we find a lively tourist
Five years later, her family found themselves living under the rule
Eloisa’s family were landholders and
didn’t suffer the fate of many early inhabitants of the new American
Southwest after the Mexican-American War.
was one tough cookie. In 1887, widowed and left without the
property given as her marriage dowry, she built a commercial
building known as the Sepúlveda Block on land that
her also-widowed mother owned, quite a feat for a woman of
her day. The two story
Victorian-style building cost Eliosa $8,000 and featured businesses,
a boarding facility and her private residence.
Beautifully restored, Sepúlveda House remains today as the
Plaza District’s Visitors’ Center and mini museum providing a taste
of life in late nineteenth century Los Angeles.
with information from The Center, we took to the street. The
street is flanked by twenty-seven historic buildings dating
back to the 1800s, blending Mexican and the newly adopted
Anglo architectures. The original adobe
structures from the late 1700s no longer remain. Most buildings
are refurbished as restaurants or the ever present tourist area
crap shops but we nevertheless got a feel for how
LA rolled before
Hollywood came to town.
the center of the narrow street small carts have set up shop
to ply their Mexican wrestling masks, paper flowers, cup and
ball toys, sarapes, cheap guitars, puppets and even an Elvis
on velvet or two.
Browsing the souvenirs amidst the aromas of the many authentic
are plenty of culinary choices on Olvera Street– from table
cloths adorned with fine china to walking-around-with wrapped tacos.
We chose an in-between — a sit down and eat from a basket establishment,
La Noche Buena, with its colorful atmosphere and tables in full
view of the
tortilla flinging in the kitchen.
are generally a good yardstick when sizing up a Mexican restaurant
and La Noche Buena did not disappoint. Four varieties — muy
mild mannered to aye carumba! — served with whole fried corn
tortillas. Everything else was gravy after
that. After a few tacos al carbon and some killer taquitos, we had
regained the strength to manage the last fifty yards or so to the
powdered wigs and living in New England.
circular plaza in front of the old church is ringed with historical
markers depicting the founding of the LA and its counterpart
settlements up and down the west coast. Turns out the Spanish
had a well governed system of missions and presideos all across
too old to learn something new.