Olvera Street - History - Preservation and Restoration

Preservation and Restoration

Sterling's efforts to rescue the Plaza-Olvera area began in 1926, when she discovered the deteriorated conditions of the area, and in particular the Avila Adobe, the oldest existing home in the city. After raising the issue of the Avila Adobe with the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Sterling approached Harry Chandler, the publisher of the Los Angeles Times with a plan to restore the building and create a colorful Mexican marketplace and cultural center in the Plaza. Chandler was intrigued by Sterling's idea for restoring the Plaza area as a mixture of romance and capitalism, and helped by providing extensive publicity and support for the development plan in The Times.

However, by 1928, due to a lack of financial support for implementing her ideas, the project appeared to be fading. In late November of that year, Sterling found a Los Angeles City Health Department Notice of Condemnation posted in front of the Avila Adobe. In response, Sterling posted her own hand-painted sign condemning the shortsightedness of city bureaucrats in failing to preserve an important historic site. Her action helped attract additional public interest in preserving the old adobe. In response to the increased show of publicity, the Los Angeles City Council reversed its original order of condemnation. Support for restoring the adobe rushed in from throughout the city. Building materials came from several local companies, including Blue Diamond Cement and the Simmons Brick Company, one of the largest employers of Mexicans in the Los Angeles area. Los Angeles Police Chief James Davis provided a crew of prison inmates to do hard labor on the project. Sterling oversaw the entire construction project, and an excerpt from her diary vividly captures her spirit and sense of desperation for financial support during the construction: One of the prisoners is a good carpenter, another an electrician. Each night I pray they will arrest a bricklayer and a plumber.

In spite of ample supplies and forced volunteers, the project lacked solid financial backing until Chandler came forward with capital for the project through funds collected at $1,000-a-plate luncheons with selected businessmen. Chandler established and headed the Plaza de Los Angeles Corporation, a for-profit venture which became the financial basis for the restoration of Plaza-Olvera. The street was closed to traffic in 1929.

On Easter Sunday 1930, Sterling's romantic revival came to pass with the opening of Paseo de Los Angeles (which later became popularly known by its official street name Olvera Street). Touted as A Mexican Street of Yesterday in a City of Today, Olvera Street was an instant success as a tourist site. La Opinión, the leading Spanish language daily, perhaps reflecting the sentiments among many Mexicans in the city, praised the project as una calleja que recuerda al México viejo, which in English means, "A little street that recalls old Mexico."

Read more about this topic:  Olvera Street, History

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