Start watching
Tending Nature poster 2021

Tending Nature

Start watching

Southland Sessions

Start watching

Earth Focus

Start watching

Reporter Roundup

Start watching

City Rising

Start watching

Lost LA

Start watching
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Learn about the many ways to support KCET.
Support Icon
Contact our Leadership, Advancement, Membership and Special Events teams.

Anxious on Olvera Street


In the mid-1920s, when Christine Sterling walked down the 600-foot-long lane that intersects the plaza in front of the Church of Nuestra Señora de los Angeles, Olvera Street was a rough mix of immigrant tenements and industrial buildings. The area around the plaza had been the heart of the Spanish and Mexican city from the 1780s through the 1840s and even through the first three decades of the newly American city. But booming Los Angeles moved west and south in the late 1880s, leaving its past behind.

Until the past became a sales pitch. The Ramonaland fantasy of the "Days of the Dons" gave remnants of the past considerable value. By 1920, old haciendas were roadside attractions. The Camino Real was restored. The Franciscan mission churches were refurbished (and those that had melted back into the adobe soil were rebuilt with varying degrees of historical accuracy).

Unfortunately for boosters, downtown Los Angeles had no haciendas, no mission. (The church on the plaza was rebranded as "the Old Mission Church" in hopes of fooling some of the tourists.) Downtown had only the plaza, some once-grand buildings from the previous century, and an alley called Olvera Street.

And Olvera Street had Christine Sterling. She had already reinvented herself through two failed marriages, progressing from Chastina Rix to marquee-worthy Christine Sterling, before she took on the task of reinventing Olvera Street. Sterling saved the oldest surviving house in Los Angeles - the Avila adobe, built in 1818 - by encasing it and nearby buildings in an invented Mexico - a place Sterling never visited, according to Cecilia Rasmussen, writing in the Los Angeles Times in 2005.

Once, Olvera Street was literally the first thing that tourists saw after walking out of Union Station, luggage in hand. That's changed, and the street has had hard times. Today brings some of the hardest: a combination of recession, the city's near bankruptcy, and the limits of reinvention and fantasy.

Olvera Street has always been publically managed (currently by the cash-strapped city) but operated for the benefit of businesses along the street, come of which have been owned by successive generations of family members since Olvera Street was reborn in 1930. Businesses have been sheltered by this arrangement, but now they face rents recalculated at "market rates." That would mean, in some cases, increasing payments by several hundred percent, according to restaurant owner Vivien Bonzo (interviewed by Patt Morrison's in Saturday's Los Angeles Times).

Irrelevance seems to hang over Olvera Street. "How many people do you know who are looking for a pair of maracas or a sombrero?" Bonzo asked Morrison. Selling souvenirs of Mexico to tourists in Los Angeles may not be much of a business model anymore.

The image on this page was taken by flickr user Ian MacDonald. It is used under a Creative Commons License.

Support Provided By
Support Provided By
Read More
un mazo de juez de madera

Justicia retrasada: tribunales abrumados por el atraso de la pandemia

Desde la manutención de los hijos hasta el fraude de seguros, los casos judiciales se retrasan en todo California. Solo la mitad de los casos civiles y penales se resolvieron el verano pasado en comparación con las cifras anteriores a la pandemia. “La justicia no se ha cerrado. La justicia se ha ralentizado”, según un grupo de abogados.
A gavel on a table

Justice Delayed: Courts Overwhelmed by Pandemic Backlog

From child support to insurance fraud, court cases are delayed throughout California. Only half as many civil and criminal cases were resolved last summer compared with pre-pandemic numbers. “Justice has not shut down. Justice has slowed down,” according to an attorneys’ group.
People pull up in their vehicles for Covid-19 vaccines in the parking lot of The Forum in Inglewood, California on January 19, 2021. | FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

L.A. County Expands COVID Vaccines to Residents 65 And Older

L.A. County began scheduling COVID-19 vaccination appointments for those aged 65 and older today, but limited supplies and uncertainty about future allocations has left the inoculation effort shrouded in doubt.