LA PLAZA AT OLVERA STREET
El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora Reina de los Ángeles was founded in 1781 by Spanish pobladores, on a site southeast of today’s Olvera Street near the Los Angeles River. They consisted of 11 families (44 Settlers) and were accompanied by a few Spanish soldiers. The settlers where of Native American, African and European heritage and journeyed more than a thousand miles across the desert from present-day northern Mexico and established a farming community.
Olvera Street is in the oldest part of Downtown Los Angeles and is part of the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument. There are 27 buildings of various ages still standing on Olvera Street, including the Avila Adobe (1818), the Pelanconi House (1857), and the Sepulveda House (1887). The colorful Mexican marketplace opened on Easter Sunday, April 20, 1930 following a preservation campaign that was spearheaded by Christine Sterling.
The Avila Adobe is L.A.’s oldest house still standing in its original location, and is designated as California Historic Landmark #145. Originally built in 1818 by Francisco José Avila, it has since been the home to many of his family members and descendants. It even served as military headquarters in the late 1840s. Today, the Avila Adobe’s interior depicts the California lifestyle of the 1840s. Dark wood tables, four-poster beds, candelabras and elaborate carpets create a 19th century atmosphere. The walls of the Avila house are made of adobe brick, a material consisting of clay, water and other organic materials like straw.
LA PLACITA CHURCH
The parish church in the Plaza Historic District was founded as La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Ángeles (“The Church of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels”) on Aug. 18, 1814. The structure was completed and dedicated on Dec. 8, 1822. A replacement chapel, named La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles (“The Church of Our Lady of the Angels”) was rebuilt in 1861 using materials from the original church. La Placita Church was one of the first three sites designated as Historic Cultural Monuments by the City of Los Angeles and has been designated as a California Historical Landmark.
LOS ANGELES PLAZA PARK
Located at the heart of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, Los Angeles Plaza Park (aka Father Serra Park) is the site of numerous festivals and celebrations. Built in the 1820s, the plaza was at one time the city’s commercial and social center. The plaza has three statues of important figures in L.A. history: King Carlos III of Spain, the monarch who ordered the founding of the Pueblo de Los Angeles in 1780; Felipe de Neve, the Spanish Governor of the Californias who selected the site of the Pueblo and laid out the town; and Father Junípero Serra, founder and first head of the Alta California missions. The plaza itself is a monument to L.A.’s original 44 settlers (Los Pobladores) and the four soldiers who accompanied them. A large plaque that lists their names and later plaques dedicated to the individual 11 families were placed in the ground encircling the gazebo at the center of the plaza.
The Sepulveda House is a 22-room Victorian house built in 1887 in the Eastlake Victorian style. The original structure included two commercial businesses on the Main Street side and three residences on Olvera Street. The Sepulveda House represents the architectural and social transformation of Los Angeles from a city of purely Mexican traditions to a multicultural blend of Mexican and American cultures. The building design was based on an American concept of a business block, while the breezeway and arrangement of rooms at the rear reflect the Mexican tradition of an inner courtyard. The Kitchen Exhibit recreates the boarding house’s kitchen of the 1890s, while Senora Sepulveda’s Bedroom depicts some of the cultural and technological advances at the turn of the 20th century.
THE OLD PLAZA FIREHOUSE
The Old Plaza Firehouse is the oldest fire station in the city. The first occupants of the firehouse were called the Volunteer 38s, after the number of men in Engine Company No. 1. Built in 1884, it operated as a firehouse until 1897. In later incarnations, the building was used as a saloon, cigar store, poolroom, “seedy hotel,” Chinese market, “flop house” and drugstore. The building was restored in the 1950s and opened as a firefighting museum in 1960 with displays of helmets, photos and firefighting equipment of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
THE PICO HOUSE
The Pico House was built as a luxury hotel from 1869 to 1870 by businessman Pío Pico, the last Mexican Governor of Alta California. Located on Main Street across Los Angeles Plaza from Olvera Street, the Italianate-style Pico House was considered the most extravagant and lavish hotel in Southern California. In the hotel’s heyday the courtyard featured a fountain and an aviary of exotic birds. The back of the hotel faces Sanchez Street, where the large gate used by supply wagons and other large vehicles can still be seen. The rear of the landmark Pico House is frequently seen in the CBS TV series, The Mentalist as the headquarters of the fictional California Bureau of Investigation. The Pico House is listed as a California Historical Landmark (No. 159) and a National Historic Landmark as a part of the Los Angeles Plaza Historic District.