One of the things I love about California is the profusion of different cultures: Chinese, Japanese and, of course, Mexican. I also take a perverse delight in ferreting out historical sites among the glass and concrete of the gleaming modern cities. So it’s no surprise that, on a return visit to Los Angeles, the first place I headed to was El Pueblo de Los Angeles. This is a thriving Mexican enclave and the oldest part of the city, packed full with historic buildings.
Colonising Alta California
El Pueblo de Los Angeles dates back to the 18th century. The Spanish had started to colonise Alta California and in 1781 King Carlos III sent instructions that a new pueblo (town) was to be established in the area that is now Los Angeles. The story goes that eleven families congregated at the nearby San Gabriel Mission and marched to the new site accompanied by two priests and a military escort.
Each family was given a plot of land to work and it was not long before other settlers came to join them and the town began to grow. The heart of the new settlement was Wine Street, known today as Olvera Street. Light industry soon developed here, along with houses, shops and restaurants, some of which still survive today.
Exploring El Pueblo de Los Angeles
Most visitors head to Olvera Street, with its vibrant market stalls and numerous shops and restaurants, where you can eat authentic Mexican food and drink several types of margarita. But there is lots more to see in this area, from the 19th century Iglesia de Nuestra Señora to a number of museums, including historic houses and the Old Plaza Firehouse (a museum of firefighting). Walk across the Old Plaza and don’t miss the Mexican Consulate, with its colourful mural of the Blessing of the Animals. (The Blessing of the Animals is one of many festivals that take place in El Pueblo each year.)
For me it was enough to wander around and enjoy the lively atmosphere of Olvera Street. I had a quick look at the Avila Adobe, built in 1818 and the earliest surviving house in Los Angeles. It has now been restored as an illustration of “the California lifestyle of the 1840s”. But then I went to another old building – La Golondrina, the oldest remaining brick house in Los Angeles and now a restaurant. I had tacos with fresh cactus and a pomegranate margarita. Great Mexican food in a historic setting – what more could you ask for?
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