Aaron's Tour of Los Angeles - Part 1
El Pueblo Historic District, New Downtown, and Hollywood







The tour begins in the "El Pueblo" historic area, which is where the city first began as a small town about 1781. After a short ride on the MTA Red Line (yes, L.A. does have a subway system in part of the city and you can ride it for just $1.35), the tour continues in the "New Downtown" area. After another short ride on the Metro, the tour continues in Hollywood.



Note: These directions were taken from another source and have not yet been tested.

1. From the North: Drive toward Downtown on the Pasadena Freeway (110) and take the transition ramp to the 101 East. Almost immediately, take the exit marked Broadway but continue two blocks to Main. Turn left onto Main Street. Parking lots are on the left side of Main Street.

2. From the East: Take the Santa Ana Freeway. Exit at Alameda Street. Turn right and drive north on Alameda to Cesar Chavez Avenue. Turn left onto Cesar Chavez Avenue and left again on Spring Street. Parking lots are on the left side of Spring Street heading south.

3. From the South and West: Drive north on the Harbor Freeway (110). Take the transition ramp to the 101 East. Almost immediately, take the exit marked Broadway but continue two blocks to Main Street. Turn left onto Main. Parking lots are on the left side of Main Street.

4. From the Northwest (Hollywood and San Fernando Valley): Take the Hollywood Freeway (101 East) to the exit marked Broadway but continue two blocks to Main Street. Turn left onto Main. Parking lots are on the left side of Main Street.

Los Angeles was founded about September 4, 1781 when 44 settlers arrived from Northern Mexico. King Carlos III of Spain ordered Felipe de Neve, then governor of Baja and Alta California, to recruit these settlers to raise food for the soldiers who were protecting Spanish territory. The city was named "El pueblo de la reina de los angeles sobre el rió de la porciúncula" (The town of the queen of the angles near the porciúncula river). "Porciúncula" is a Spanish holiday, and the river was discovered during this holiday. "Porciuncala" refers to a little plot of land next to the church in Assisi, Italy where St. Francis of Assisi had lived and worshipped. He established the order of Spanish padres who founded the missions in the Americas.
1. Old Plaza 2. Firehouse No. 1 3. Pico House 4. Olvera Street
5. Avila Adobe 6. Union Station 7. MTA Building  

1. Old Plaza

The "Old Plaza," at one end of Olvera Street was the first central gathering spot in the city of Los Angeles. The city was composed of numerous small farms and families would travel to the old plaza in order to attend church at the old Plaza Catholic Church, watch bullfights in the plaza, and other special events. As the town grew, retired soldiers petitioned for and were granted the use of large tracts of land to graze cattle. Only thirteen such "Spanish land grants" were made in Los Angeles County before Mexico declared its independence from Spain in 1821. Mexican independence is celebrated along with U.S. independence in Los Angeles, and there is replica of the Bell of Delores just off of Olvera Street. The old plaza is also home to the first fire station in Los Angeles and the Pico House, the first grand hotel in the area.


2. Firehouse No. 1

In 1869, almost 100 years after the founding of the city, the citizens decided to create a volunteer fire department. The city created a committee to assist the volunteer fire department and installed hydrants to supply water. Two years later, a fire department was created and a full time employee, George P. McClain, was hired as the first engineer at a salary of $100 per month. A steam fire engine and hose cart were purchased, but the volunteers resigned a year later when the council refused to buy a pair of horses to pull the fire engine. In 1874 a new volunteer company was formed with 38 members, known as the Volunteer 38's. Their foreman, Charles E. Miles, was given the fire engine and he persuaded the council to purchase a pair of horses. A second volunteer company was created and known as Confidence No. 2. The volunteer companies were arch rivals and competed to see who could arrive first at the scene of a fire.

Firehouse No. 1 was built in September 1884 because the 38's rented quarters were leaking badly. The building was designed with a turntable in the floor, so that the horses would not have to back in or out. Walter S. Moore, popular head of Confidence No. 2 was elected Chief Engineer of the volunteer firemen. Moore was elected to the city council in 1882 and became head of the Committee on Fire and Water. He played an instrumental role in raising funds for Firehouse No. 1. Due to bickering amongst the different fire companies, the city established a paid fire department in December of 1885.


3. Pico House

Built in 1869, Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor of California built the Pico House, a luxurious hotel, and the first three story building in the city in an attempt to revitalize the old plaza area. He sold his land in the San Fernando Valley in order to fund the project. A french restaurant used to be housed in the hotel and when the hotel is restored, a french restaurant will once again reside within the Pico House.

4. Olvera Street

Olvera Street was one of the oldest streets in the city and was originally known as Vine or Wine street (early maps and manuscripts mention both names). It was located on the north side of the Plaza and ended in a bluff above the zanja madre ("mother ditch") that provided water for the city. In 1846 the Mexican-American War began and U.S. forces occupied Los Angeles the following year. The Avila Adobe was occupied by Commodore Robert F. Stockton and used as his headquarters as peace was negotiated between the Californians and the American authorities.

In 1877 the City Council renamed the street after Agustin Olvera, the first judge of the County of Los Angeles. The oldest building in the city, the Avila Adobe (built by former mayor, Francisco Avila in 1818) is located on Olvera Street, as is the Pelanconi House (one of four structured erected by Italians on Olvera Street and the oldest brick building in the city). In 1903, a large power substation was built between Los Angeles and Olvera Streets to provide electricity for the city's trolley cars. In 1926, Christine Sterling fought to revitalize Olvera Street and save the Avila Adobe from demolition. Along with such friends as Harry Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, Mrs. Sterline began the revitalization process which culminated in an ordinance passed by the City Council in 1929 that closed Olvera Street to traffic and for use as a Mexican market place. The street has been home to wide range of people, including the 1932 olympic team from Mexico to U.S. soldiers during World War II. In the 1930's, Olvera Street was popular with film stars, including Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and Gretta Garbo. Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy, and Eleanor Roosevelt have also visited the street.

5. Avila Adobe

The Avilla Adobe, the oldest residence in Los Angeles, was constructed about 1818 as the home of Francisco Avilla, alcalde (mayor) of the city. Only this seven room wing remains of what was once eighteen rooms, the finest residence in the city. It is constructed of adobe brick over cottonwood timbers taken from the banks of the Los Angeles River. The walls are almost three feet thick. The floor, originally packed earth, is planked. The building was severely damaged in the earthquakes of 1870, 1857, and 1971 but has been restored. The building was abandoned by Senora Avilla during the American occupation of Los Angeles. Commodore Robert Stockton, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, used the structure as his headquarters for a brief time during the Mexican-American War. After his departure Senora Avilla returned to her home, where she lived until her death in 1855.

6. Union Station

As the western terminus for the Southern Pacific, Union Pacific, and Santa Fe lines, Union Station was built in 1939 to provide access to 16 tracks along with a large parking area. The building has been restored to its original beauty and is one of the last railroad monuments in the country still in operation. It has a 135 foot high observation and clock tower, a 52-foot-ceiling, marble floor and comfortable old-fashioned leather armchairs. The building mixes two architectural styles ­ Spanish Colonial Revival and Art Deco ­ and has recently been expanded to include access to the new MTA, and the MTA headquarters. The mission is located where China Town was originally located, as was part of the Porciúncula River, which has been moved and renamed as the Los Angeles River. Be sure to walk through the long path to the other end of Union Station, where you can go up the escalator and out to the new MTA building, see an artistic tribute to the old Chinatown, and catch the MTA.


7. MTA Building

This high-rise is the new home to the Metropolitan Transit District. It has been linked to Union Station to form a collective hub for commuter rail traffic and the terminus of the Red Line Subway. The $300 million, 26 story MTA building features Italian granite, English brick, and a $300,000 aquarium.



Take the MTA Red Line from Union Station to Pershing Square, where the "New Downtown" part of the tour begins. (Click here or on the subway to continue the tour)


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