Save Olvera Street!


It’s unfortunate, but many of us Los Angeles natives take Olvera Street aka El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument or La Placita Olvera for granted. It’s the place to buy taquitos, folklorico shoes and other Mexican handicrafts. We go there to eat, stroll, take pictures on donkeys and just hangout. Every year they put on great programs to celebrate different holidays. I have fond memories of winning the best costume contest for Mardi Gras one year (Chicken Girl!) My mom always tells her story of spotting Marlon Brando sitting in the Plaza one afternoon, staring forlornly into space. For myself and my family, Olvera Street is an institution, a part of our personal history.

I recently read the book Los Angeles’s Olvera Street by William Estrada and was surprised by the history of this Los Angeles landmark. If it weren’t for the efforts of Christine Sterling, who recognized the area as a historic treasure, the whole street (actually it’s kind of an alley) would have been demolished and long forgotten by now.

Well, it’s time we all channel our inner Christine Sterlings because we received an urgent email tonight from a LA Eastside reader regarding a very important meeting tomorrow. It seems the City of Los Angeles, in it’s typical short-sighted way wants to privatize Olvera Street. I’m sure it sounds good to the CAOs and accountants to do so, but our history is much more valuable than the small profits number-crunchers try to come up with. This is not to say that there is no room for change or new ideas but privatization usually brings homogenization and corporate culture something Olvera Street, for all it’s faults, refreshingly lacks. Our city has enough malls.


Due to the city’s fiscal crisis, tomorrow morning, the Los Angeles City Council will discuss and potentially vote on a plan to privatize El Pueblo Historical Monument, the Birthplace of the City of Los Angeles. Please come to John Ferraro Council Chambers at 11:15 AM ready to share your concerns during public comment.

While the details of privatization have not been disclosed, the plan will likely include the commercialization of El Pueblo, its public museums, galleries and historic sites which are visited by two million people annually, including 300,000 students.

Please communicate to city officials that privatization of the city’s birthplace is nothing short of an abomination, may violate state historic codes, and threatens the city’s irreplaceable cultural and historical heritage. Let them know that El Pueblo’s historic buildings, the oldest in the city, its public space, vast collection of artifacts and photographs that speak to the the city’s early history must be preserved for present and future generations.

Los Angeles City Hall
John Ferraro Council Chambers, Room 340
200 North Spring Street
Los Angeles, 90012


24 thoughts on “Save Olvera Street!

  1. Olvera Street is already privatized! You’ve got these “anything for a buck” owners consistantly claiming their right to the street because their abuelita or step-grandpa bequeathed them a business built on city land. The rents at Olvera Street in no way compare to the rents at other city owned venues like Universal Walk and the airport where vendors pay market rate rent. Everytime they get in trouble – or the City asks them to carry their own wait (how can a venue with 2 million visitors not be self sufficient?) – they give Gloria Molina and her staff a free meal and it becomes a political crusade. The same thing happened when Nick Pacheco was councilman and he sided with the owners (private owners) on the condition they stop selling Tupac posters and plastic machine guns to make the items for sale more “Mexican Theme” appropiate. The Merchants refused, cried to Molina and then supported the candidacy of Antonio Villar to replace Nick. Well you reap what you sow!

    Good luck on that starving, lonely merchant bit – I wonder what East L.A. will say when they find out about those hillside mansions these merchants live on. Olvera Street is already privatized but not playing by fair market rules since the owners – some of which own 3 or 4 shops – claim a monopoly on this city owned gold mine.

    By the way, that’s a very old nostalgic picture of Olvera Street – today, it looks more like a swap meet.

  2. I remeber Olvera as a child and still visit when in Los Angeles. Like yourself it has played a big part in my life. Avila Adobe, B of A Bank with it’s historic weapons wall, etc. I don’t know if I missed any shop or restautrant over the last 50+ years but I doubt it. If I were still living there and not in Vegas I would try my best to attend said meeting. I urge all who can to do so for the sake of our Pueblo and our descendants.

  3. Yeh, Olvera Street is gone if this goes through. The buyers will eventually sell, and even if there’s some stipulation in the purchase that says they have to preserve the history or whatever, they’ll find a loophole. There’ll be condos there in 5 years.

  4. i think Venididos Already said it well. The current way Olvera St operates is a shell of its former days.
    But with that said there is some hope for it, especially with the rental issue advancing and just about resolved. Merchants should be paying new rent in April.
    El Pueblo, which encompasses Olvera st should not just be reduce to a handful of merchants. It the city’s birthday place, a connection to various times of the city’s history. From its Spanish and Mexican past to its history as part of Chinatown, little Italy and a product of Spanish romanticism. 200 hundred years of history should not be laid to waste.
    From what i have seen, City Council is trying to go into a private-public partnership to get ride of some of its departments. Which is not necessarily a bad idea. If you look at things the County has done, Expo Park and the music center for example. All owned by county in a partnership with a non profit. Both of which are ran fairly well and do a lot for programing. El Pueblo has some programing, but not enough as a monument of its stature should. And some of it is repetitive. El Pueblo has not been fully utilized to its potential. And i dont think as a city department, a bureaucracy, it can be.

  5. I remember as a kid going to the Posadas, drinking the champurado and eating bunuelos while waiting my turn to hit the pinata. I went back recently was disappointed at what was being sold. Stuff that you would find at any 99 cent store. Toys, non-mexicano t-shirts, posters you would find at wal-mart. The place is already over commercialized. Perhaps because the vendors need to survive, they sell all this crap to the 300,000 school kids that visit. Say what you will about Disneyland, but this corporation sold a product and has consistantly maintained it’s identity. Most merchants, not all, at Olvera Street can’t make the same claim.

  6. Leave it alone! It’s the historic Mexican center of Los Angeles, it one little chickenshit former alley that has become a magnet for over 2 million visitors a year.
    Former city councilman Richard Alatorre once almost ruined it by privitizing it and selling it to some Hong Kong developers who had plans to turn it into a multi cultural mall and he got his ass kicked over the scheme to “utilize Olvera to it’s fullest economic potential” and I think anyone who tries to pull the wool over the publics eye so as to maximize profits will be run out of town on a rail. There are way to many citizens of Los Angeles who visit Olvera and have for generations of family. Who cares if those merchants are paying any rent at all? Maybe they should be designated as historic as well.
    Olvera St is a jewel for the City and County of Los Angeles, hokey souvenir stands and all. What would Olvera St be without the old candle shop, the leather shop, the photo donkey, the vines and the white doves all over the roofs and walls, having a margarita at La Golondrina, El Paseo, the hand made tortillas at Luz del Dia, and above all the home of the original taquito covered with guacamole that has been on the corner for a million years it seems, and that has that great smell permeating the air especially on a cold night or rainy day.
    Hands off Calle Olvera!

  7. Thanks all for the comments.
    I’m not sure if the meeting today is about the rate increase or if the city is planning to partner with private companies or sell of Olvera St the way they want to do with the LA Zoo.
    Over the years, I’ve heard a lot about the mismanagement and problems at Olvera St. I hope many of these things can be fixed but I know it’s not easy. My concern is for corporate stores to come in and replace Velarde’s Fruit with Jamba Juice, La Luz del Dia with Chipotle, etc.
    Olvera St for all it’s faults, has a uniquely quaint character that is difficult to find anywhere else. If I have to choose between mom and pop mafias and corporate mafias, I’ll choose mom and pop! 😉
    Leave the donkey alone! 🙂

  8. I buy lots of cheap chinese made toys at Olvera St and I also enjoy the margaritas. It’s right next to the main train station downtown, I can get margarita happy and just walk to the trains.

    Save the culture of Olvera St !!!!!!!

  9. Please keep us informed! I am a 3rd generation LA County native and I don’t want it to change. I always bring family and friends down to visit the old city of LA and tell them of the origins of it all. I’m not Mexican, I’m as White as they came but I LOVE my home and my city’s history past present and future. I think we can have change but keep the past showing through brightly. Olvera Street is not broken so don’t fix it!


  10. oops! I forgot to check the box “notify me” I want to fallow this thread for sure!

  11. We are NOT against the increases in rent but are asking for the City to work with the vendors so that they can be done in small increments, not all at once.
    Lets not forget that some of these shops are owned by families that have been part of Placita Olvera for a loooooong time, and they depend on their little puestito … that’s their bread earner.
    How can you expect for someone to go from paying $500/monthly to $1500/monthly in a month … specially in this times when business is so low and everyone is struggling …
    Lets put PEOPLE before PROFIT!

  12. It seemed that in the early part of the 20th century there was a real movement to preserve landmarks and create national parks. For all of the racism that existed in our government then it’s amazing that some places like Olvera Street are even standing today. Then again, those who fought for it probably had more than one alley in mind, and that one alley is what they wound up with. The rest was destroyed and turned into the industrial downtown we see today, which is every bit as beautiful as those cigar chomping builders envisioned it, isn’t it? Olvera street is old fashioned, but it’s a jewel compared to some of the other alleys in downtown LA, like, pretty much, all of them. Somebody in a high place wanted Olvera street there, to the chagrin of the industrialists who wanted to just take a wrecking ball to the entire pueblo, and we don’t have those kind of people in power today. In many ways the love of money is making our leaders today more dangerous than the racists who ran this country a century ago. But not in every way. And, I wouldn’t take those assholes back for the world. One alley doesn’t make up for thousands of lives and miles of land. It’s just a wake up call to our leaders today, as to what money does to them. The level it can drag them down to.

  13. I’m not sure if anyones mentioned it but a lot of city employeed workers who work at Olvera St. are going to lose their jobs, they were on the chopping block for the cities job cuts. Even though they won’t say it a lot of people already know that their job is gone.
    I think that this is just the cities quick fix solution to miss management of city property/funds.

  14. What the hell is wrong with this city anymore? Sure Olvera St. has some problems, but privatizing it is not the answer.

    One of my very first memories of L.A. is Olvera St., as it was the first place my mom and I went after getting off the train at Union Station. I fell in love with L.A. that day and always think of that when I walk or drive by Olvera St. on my way downtown.

    If the city wants to privatize something they should contract out animal services to a non-profit humane society like so many other more well-managed cities do. Instead of wasting money on a consultant and nationwide candidate search for yet another GM (the 3rd or 4th in something like 5 years) LAAS should be the first (and probably only) department the city washes its hands off.

  15. The item on the city council agenda was to give chief administrative office 30 days to come up with alternative ways to manage El Pueblo through public/private partnerships and to involve ‘stakeholders’ in the process. Stakeholders include merchants, community groups, the nonprofit cultural organizations, like the Mexican Cultural Institute, and political types, like Jose Huizar. The ideas that rise to the top / make sense / seem workable will be presented as alternatives to having the City continue to run the place as is. The motion passed.

  16. Mexican history and presence is ignored and, or buried in LA as it is. Hollywood’s ignorance of us, leaving us out of most shows and movies is clear evidence of that.
    LEAVE OLVERA alone.

    What is it with people thinking corporations are the best way to run things?!?!? Why are we in the mess we are in today? Because we let corporations do what they do best: make the most money for themselves at the cost of people, the environment and the future.

  17. Let me tell you something, If you feel Olvera Steet has lost it’s lure or magic or or it looks like a swap meet. Get your head out out your ass. Olvera St is like no other place in Los Angeles, or any place near it. You wanna go to City walk and pay $7 for a soda fight for parking expensive restaurants a bunch of punk kids that need the police to keep an eye on them. Go ahead. If Olvera st has lost anything is control, only because the management has no passion for the place. The director of the place is this fool that no one see’s and can care less for Olvera St. He was put there to raise the rent and nothing else. People of all kinds come here to stroll and hear music eat food that it is only copied at other places. Carnitas taquitos chanpurrado mexican candy burritos. Maybe you can get that at El Mercadito but you and I know that is not the same. And for those merchants that own 3 or 4 places I agree but the management was sold out for that. But if they the city gets their way forget about taquitos. Egg-Roles and Chinnese rice is what your gonna find thier. Just don’t take your car…..

  18. This is for “Venididos already” First of all, try spell check.
    Your comments are absurd you sound like a rambling, bitter and ignorant person who is basing his “facts” on assumptions. My family has owned and operated a business on Olvera for over 50 years. What is a FACT is that leases were drawn up in 1999 yet never fulfilled. Robert Andrade (El Pueblo Mgr.) has been nothing short of a disappointment. It’s ironic that the El Pueblo department (which he runs) was created to protect and preserve Olvera Street yet with their unchecked spending it appears that Olvera Street will be the sacrificial lamb so that staff jobs are preserved. There are at LEAST $250,000 in salaries for two people to “manage” Olvera Street. What has been managed??

    Your comment that Olvera merchants should be paying the same rent as those merchants on Universal Citywalk shows us just how ignorant you are. You cannot compare the square footage, property value, plumbing etc. from either location.

    There is no justification for these abrupt 200% to 900% rent increases. The merchants agreed in 1999 to gradual increases, yet the city never granted them.

    I hope this information enlightens you, if not, at least you have some facts.

    And, no, I do not nor does anyone in my family own a big fancy house in the hills.

  19. Who cares! Thank our elected city officials with their hidden agendas and the real estate investors for the gentrifying of Downtown LA. Los Angeles needs a way to get out of it economic rut. Gentrification is the answer and money into the pockets of politicians and investors. Forget culture, its time to make money and let the bourgeois transplants create a new LA! Half of you commenting on this blog are the reason for LA’s loss of culture. Why don’t you go back where you came from, the valley, Utah, Iowa, Illnois, etc…

  20. When was more important to destroy culture to make money just because the City of Los Angeles has been mismaneged for so long. Because the city needs money it will destroy HISTORY AND CULTURE. What a shame.

  21. There is way too much polarity in this discussion with not enough facts. I don’t know enough to be an expert but this is what it looks like to me, The city still owns Olvara street. I think it’s totally ironic that there is so much hostility directed toward the city. If you really hated renting from a subsidized publicly owned property then you would have no problem with then selling it to private investors. But the truth is that if the renters are striking against the city, tax payers should not have to cary the bill. I am one of those tax payers. Olvera street was set aside by the city specifically as a cultural landmark a fate that old chinatown did not fare nearly as well in. As such the city will never sell to private investors but it might be time to go to the negotiating table and find some sort of compromise.

  22. i think this place is amazeing ..the smells and colors of the place light up the mood in any body …this history ,this place is known in la ….u cant shut it down

  23. Hey, I just wanted to let everyone know, that my Paternal Grandparents are from EastLos, and have known and shared La PLacita Olvera with Family AND friends from not only California, but from Texas also! (Maternal Grandparents) for a very long time!! What a WASTE it would be to turn this landmark into a Parking Lot or even part of a freeway. LORD help us ALL to keep sacred (if not historical and emotional) a place where ALL people can come and enjoy a ‘very little’ part of Mexican/American history. Help to save this Landmark!! Latindude626 (steven)

  24. There are many problems with Olvera Street as it stands today. To be frank, I think its sister boulevard is Hollywood Blvd.

    But in the larger picture, what is happening to Olvera Street is far larger than a group of merchants who may or may not have it easy selling a lot of cheap crap and eateries/restaurants that I nevertheless like to visit almost daily. And we should not forget the massacre that happened here as well as what Los Angeles Street used to be called. (For the sake of civility, the “polite” name was Calle de los Negros.) If anything, it would be nice to have some proper monuments and significant visibility to these events so as to remind folk not just what occurred but how well these things continue to occur albeit in a far less overt fashion.

    As Metro just purchased Union Station (it just found $75 million after a month-long series of hearings on the bi-annual bus service cuts, most of which are sure to be implemented), one need not stretch the imagination to understand that Olvera Street is coveted owing to its revenue possibilities for the high-speed rail station that Metro hopes Union Station will eventually become. It is bad enough that those who may ride this future modern marvel will disembark to await a bus or take the Red/Gold Lines alongside the daily contingent of released ex-cons from the county jail. But that’s just tough darts, because nearly no Metro employees commute to work (only 1.6% do, according to the AQMD.) What Metro and the board (comprised primarily of city council members, we should remember) certainly do not want is the revenue across the way to be impacted, nor do they wish to not cash in on the significant rent despite prior 50-year contracts.

    Time will tell if these suspicions are correct. In the meantime, Olvera Street may not seem like much. The last thing I would suggest is a Disneyfied Olvera Street, especially when the revenue is to line the pockets of those whose fundamental priority should be building non-shameful mass transit system in Los Angeles. If I wanted that kind of crap, I’ll just hop on the Red Line to Hollywood/Vine or take a flight to Times Square.

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