by Lori Cruz
Nestled comfortably between Little Tokyo and Chinatown, there is a street which celebrates the Latino culture not just on Cinco de Mayo, but 365 days a year.
Olvera Street, in an area called El Pueblo de Los Angeles, is an historic section of the city which is likely to have more than 150,000 visitors this weekend to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.
“We may see that many people Saturday alone. Sunday we may see more,” said Cecile Sanchez, who works at the information booth off Alameda, across from Union Station.
Olvera Street hosts over 50 novelty and specialty shops that sell everything from leather goods to sarapes to pinatas.
The Street is one of the oldest and most historic in Los Angeles. The city was founded in 1781 and originally called El Pueblo do la Reina de los Angeles or the town of the Queen of the Angels.
Dr. Catherine Henley-Erickson, professor of English, travels to Olvera Street often when she visits the city. “I like the bustle of it, I like the families. Every time I go, there is something going on, like a wedding or a baptism at the church.
Along with the shops there are four restaurants and nine stand type eateries.
Senior Kieron Estrada, a broadcasting major, prefers the outdoor stands to the sit down restaurants
“My favorite is La Luz del Dia, or the light of the day. It’s right there when you first park,” he said.
Casa la Golondria offers a host of Mexican specialty foods where diners can eat on the patio looking out onto Olvera Street, or indoors, where one can view Mexican art and culture.
“I’ve been here before, but it’s been a couple of years,” said one visitor, Rose Esparza, of West Covina. “I like to bring back my son.”
“It’s cool. I like it,” said 7-year-old Nicholas Esparza on his first visit to Olvera Street.
“During the week, in the mornings, we see a lot of school children,” said Beatrice Pena, of South Gate, an employee of the Sepulveda House. “At night we see more tourists.”
Olvera Street was originally Vine Street and was changed to Olvera Street in 1877 in honor of Agustin Olvera, the first judge of the County, who owned an adobe home on the street.
The Street hosts the oldest existing house in the city, the Avila Adobe, which was built by a former mayor, Don Francisco Avila around 1818. The adobe home was made out of a mud and brick mix that was dried in the sun. The home decayed with the rest of the area in the 1890s but was later restored.
Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor of California, built Pico House, which was a hotel, in 1848, in an effort to revive the area from decay. But his efforts were fruitless.
These homes and the rest of Olvera Street were restored by Christine Sterling in the 1920s. She lived at Avila Adobe until 1963.
“When you step into Avila Adobe it feels like you’re in another place. It feels very rich, ” said Dr. Henley-Erickson.
Avila Adobe was restored by Sterling to give visitors an example of California living in the 1800s.
Sterling came to Los Angeles from her native San Francisco in the mid 1920s. During these years, Olvera Street was in near ruins. Sterling knew this was a historic area of the city and vowed to return it to its original state. She, along with Harry Chandler (then editor of the Los Angeles Times) began to revitalize the area. She is called the “mother of Olvera Street” due to her efforts.
Sterling made great strides to seal off the street from vehicular traffic and turned it into a Mexican market place. Both of these events were realized in 1929 and 1930, respectively. In 1953, the area became a state historic park, where the annual Blessing of the Animals is performed every Easter.
Since the 1930s, when the street became the outdoor market that it is today, Olvera Street has seen over 2 million visitors a year.
Sepulveda House was built in 1848, it is now an information center and a museum, where one can view a short movie on the history of the street and photographs of the various families who lived on the street, some of which dates back to the turn of the century.
One visitor was looking at pictures of the families who resided on Olvera Street and saw decade old photos of her childhood friends.
“I believe that is her right there,” said Rosalie Castillo of West Covina as she pointed to a black and white photo of a family.
“I knew her in the 1950s,” Castillo said. “She lived here on this street. I gather the house has changed in many ways.”
Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of Mexico’s victory over French forces in Puebla, Mexico, in 1862. Olvera Street annually hosts Celebracion Cinco, which is the “largest Cinco de Mayo festival in the country.”
The festival will feature live entertainment from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. today through Sunday. Mariachi bands, ballet folkloricos and Latino music will entertain the visitors on the street and three stages will be set up for more entertainment, which will include an interactive children’s play and a traditional music and dance stage.
Olvera Street is across from Union Station, which is an exit from the Metro lines. The Street is located off Interstate 10, exit. The Street is between Alameda and Main Streets and ends at Cesar Chavez Boulevard.
There is ample parking at Union Station or other parking lots in the area. There is not a charge for admission to Olvera Street but donations are accepted in the historic homes and visitors center.