Stepping into the stretch that is Olvera Street in Downtown Los Angeles feels like walking into a tiny slice of Mexico (albeit a very touristy one!). Most of Southern California was once the domain of Spanish and Mexican governments, so its not surprising to see a large Latino population here. As Malaysia doesn’t have much of a Latin American crowd, visiting Olvera Street and taking in the sights and sounds of its culture was a new thing for me. :)
The first thing one notices upon stepping into this historical area is the bright, vivid colours and patterns. Traditional dresses are hung outside squarish, brick shops – and they look all ready to be worn to a fiesta or party! A faint but lively music wafts into the air from someone’s radio.
Stalls selling all manner of clothing and souvenirs line the street. Although it was typical touristy stuff, it was still fascinating to browse through. Bringing a heavy Spanish influence, there were figures of the Virgin Mary and Jesus everywhere. The peddlers weren’t picky though – they also had lots of South American Indian paraphernalia, like Incan and Mayan masks and tribal decorations.
Olvera Street is the oldest section in Downtown LA and was the commercial and social hub for the Mexican immigrant community in the olden days. The present ‘form’ we see has only been around since the 1930s, when a major revitalisation project took place. People applauded the effort, calling it ‘a street which recalls old Mexico’. Today, it is listed as one of the top five streets to visit in the USA.
Brick buildings line the entire stretch of Olvera Street. Most of them are two storied, with the second one slightly lower than the pavement.
It’s a great place to buy souvenirs, like string puppets, skull-faced dolls, guitars and whatnot.
At the very end of the street, the walkway opens up into a plaza. Simply called ‘La Plaza’, it has giant, shady trees surrounding a gazebo that is decorated with strings of colourful flags.
And nearby is the Pico House, a luxury hotel built by the last Mexican Governer of California; which is now a museum. In its golden days, it even had an aviary of exotic birds !
Olvera Street is an interesting place to visit for those who want to know more about LA’s history, as well as an introduction to the culture of the Mexican people in America. Worth a visit :)
125 Paseo de la Plaza
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Mon-Sun 10 am – 7 pm
Take the Metro to Union Station. Olvera Street is just 3mins away.