Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Olvera Street (and surrounding coolness)

First off, doesn't the guy on the left look just like Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid? This handsome fella is actually Filipe De Neve, the first Governor of the Californias(appointed by King Carlos III of Spain in 1775) and founder of "El Pueblo de Nuestra SeƱora la Reina de Los Angeles" which translates into “The Village of Our Lady, the Queen of the Angels." It seems that even back in the day, Angelino's had delusions of grandeur...

Anyway, Felipe now resides in La Plaza, once the center of LA's social life under Spanish and Mexican rule, now a kind of a park with a giant festive gazebo, a lady who will take your picture on a fake donkey,while wearing a sombrero, for ten bucks, and(the day I was there) a flautist playing the theme from Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet. If those of you who know me haven't already guessed, I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS PLACE.

You see, Olvera Street isn't just Olvera Street. Don't get me wrong, Olvera Street is awesome, kind of like a combination between a slightly crumbling Williamsburg, VA(no cars, historical buildings from the colonial era, including Avila House and Sepulvada House: two restored homes that are now free museums) Canal Street in NYC(lots of of those creepy wrestling masks and many, many Freida Kahlo tote bags) and a county fair(tourists and locals crammed in together, and the smell of good food from all the restaurants and greasy stalls).

But it is the area around Olvera Street that is almost more interesting. First off is the aforementioned La Plaza, which Olvera Street opens into. Across the street from La Plaza sits the oldest church in Los Angeles, La Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles(founded 1822). A still thriving congregation worships there, and the day we came children were being baptized, girls were celebrating their Quinceanera, and old women were praying, both in the cheaply restored church and outside at a waterfall like shrine, where parents had taped ultrasounds of unborn children onto the rails. The covered patio by the church is straight out of a movie fit for dancing and desperado's. Kim, Katherine and Jamie, who accompanied me, thought it would be a great place for a festive party, but I, being me, instantly pictured a star-crossed couple dancing sadly in the night, as a mariachi band played its last drunken song.

Perhaps it was the influence of the Romeo and Juliet theme...

Another very pleasent suprise was the Chinese American Muesem (free admission) which faces La Plaza and sits besides the ornate, Italianate, Pico House(which deserves some kind of medal as it was the first luxury hotel in SoCal, but sadly now seems to be nothing but a sometimes functioning exhibition space) and right behind the niftily restored Old Plaza Fire Station. The area was home to the original Chinatown, which was raised for the building of Union Station, and is has some very good, very new exhibits. Not so fun fact: did you know there was a masacare of Chinese Angelino's in 1871, sparked by the killing of a white man who got caught in the middle of a dispute between two Chinese factions?

You would if you went to Olvera Street! I cannot stress enough what an enlightening, educational and interesting area this is. Jamie was commenting that many of the old buildings surrounding the coolness seemed barely used, and what a shame it was that they were not being repurposed as office building, stores and apartments. I would live in this area in a heartbeat, because it was once the heart of Los Angeles, and you can feel it pumping even to this day.

Subjective Coolness:A+

Directions: From the Eastside take the 101-South(for around 5 miles) and exit at Broadway merging onto West Aliso Street. Then turn left on North Main Street and start lookin for parkin.
Hours: 8am-10pm. Store and restaurant hours vary and the muesems close close between 3 and 4pm.
Price: Basically nothing except parking- there are lots all around, charging on average $7.00. And if you're in the market for a terrifying baby Jesus doll dressed as a doctor, that will run you about $39.99 in the store on Olvera Street right behind the empty wishing well.

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