A Real Reason to Celebrate L.A.'s 230th Birthday

A 'Save Olvera Street' sign seen in 2010 as merchants and the city negotiated rent prices

A few months ago, the future of Olvera Street -- the so-called site of L.A.'s birthplace -- hung in the balance. Vendors along the street, many descendants of the city's first settlers, worried escalating rent prices would drive them out of business along the marketplace.

Warnings hung throughout the street -- in a restaurant, or shop; on a door, or window; a petition on a countertop, or flier posted on a wall. "Save Olvera Street," they declared.

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On Sunday, the city truly had a reason to celebrate L.A.'s so-called 230th birthday celebration, as those descendants of the original settlers led festivities -- cake-cutting, music, entertainment in Olvera Street Plaza.

Last May, the city saved Olvera Street.

For more than a decade, tenants fought with the city in its attempt to increase rent prices. This year, the Los Angeles City Council finally voted in favor of increasing rent for most of the shop owners on Olvera Street, but with enough concessions to strike an agreement. The concession agreement phases in the market rate rents over a number of years.

The concessions preserve a treasure that draws more than three million yearly visitors to the heart of downtown.

As co-chair of the Olvera Street Merchants Association, Albert Gribbell played a key role in the negotiations. The fight was fierce on both sides.

"I'm shocked," he said, at the time of negotiations. "I'm an active Angeleno, born and raised in the city, but I still can't understand how successive administrations have so little respect and care for the birthplace of the city. It's unfathomable to me."

Gribbell's grandfather was the first merchant on Olvera Street, introduced to the area in 1930 by a young, wealthy socialite. Christine Sterling was the founder and savior of the street, once a hangout for prostitutes and criminals. She helped stop the city's plan to bulldoze the area, and instead built a Mexican marketplace.

Today, it features outdoor cafes, shops and kiosks, authentic Mexican food, souvenirs, 27 historic buildings, a Mexican-style plaza, and plenty of entertainment.

For a look at the marketplace of yesteryear, click on the video below:

For a look at the marketplace of today, click on the mural below:

Daniel Watson is a graduate student at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, which has partnered with KCET-TV to produce this blog about policy in Los Angeles.


The photo used in this post is by Flickr user FrankBonilla.tv. It was used under a Creative Commons License.

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