Home Architectural Travel The Color and Culture of Olvera Street and Union Station

The Color and Culture of Olvera Street and Union Station

written by Penny Sadler

On the surface, Olvera Street is vibrant and colorful with an authentic marketplace atmosphere. But dig deeper and find the culture. 

You’ll find shops and restaurants selling brightly colored piñatas, candles, maracas, blankets and clothing. Musicians perform in the outdoor plaza. Olvera Street is a beautiful reminder of the origins of the City of Los Angeles.

The Color and Culture of Olvera Street

Colorful doorways abound on Olvera Street

Growing up in California, I didn’t spend a lot of time around downtown Los Angeles, but as an adult, I’ve really enjoyed exploring  L.A. With every visit I like it more and more. It’s a culturally diverse city with a fantastic food and wine scene and some of the best museums in the world.

My most recent trip took me to Olvera Street, Union Station, and the oldest standing residence in the city, the Francisco Avila Adobe.

This is where the City of Angels had its start.

street market stalls, Olvera Street, Los Angeles

Colorful street market

traditional wardrobe, Mexico, los angeles

Colorful traditional wardrobe of Mexico,

musician in the Plaza at Olvera Street Los Angeles

Street musician in the plaza, Olvera St., Los Angeles

Here are a few facts about Olvera Street, and the area known as El Pueblo De Los Angeles:

The area was settled in 1781 by the Spanish, who were in power until Mexico asserted itself and took over the pueblo. The first houses and adobe structures, the parish church, and the first streets were built during this period.

By the 1880’s, the railroad brought a massive influx of immigrants, mainly from Mexico. It continued to be the center of civic life until after the Gold Rush, when the area fell on hard times.

display of colorful Mexican blankets

In the 1920s a woman from San Francisco, Christine Sterling, was interested in the history and sociocultural value of the area. She drafted a plan to save the Adobe and plaza from demolition and turn Olvera Street into a tourist attraction.

Sterling is responsible for Olvera Street and the restoration of the Avila Adobe as it is today.

Without her determination, the Adobe and surrounding buildings would likely be dust in the wind.
With funding from the wealthy citizens of Los Angeles and hard physical labor provided by prisoners from the county jails, the restoration was completed. In 1929 the street was officially closed to traffic and in 1930, Paseo de Los Angeles officially opened.

In 1953 is was listed as a historic monument with the City of Los Angeles.

wikipedia image Olvera Street

English: Avila Adobe, Olvera Street, Los Angeles, California, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reading this quote from Sterling’s diary made me laugh out loud:

One of the prisoners is a good carpenter, another an electrician. Each day I pray they will arrest a bricklayer and a plumber.”

Not only did this woman have vision, she had a sense of humor, though I’m sure she was quite sincere in her prayers. She lived in the Avila Adobe until her death in 1963.

wikipedia image Avila Adobe

English: Avila Adobe, Olvera Steet, Los Angeles, California, USA(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For more information on celebrations and cultural activities in the area, read:

Across the street – Union Station

union station front view

Union Station, Los Angeles


Just across the road from Olvera Street is the beautiful and imposing Union Station.

Train stations rank high on my list of cool buildings and spaces.   I love the feeling of adventure and freedom I get upon walking into a train station. One of my bucket list items is to ride a train from Los Angeles to New York and get off at all the interesting stops in between. Trains are a wonderful way to slow travel . Though not every train station is an architectural treasure, Union Station in Los Angeles definitely is. Inside and out, it epitomizes a time when rail travel was the norm in the United States, and travel, in general, occurred at a more relaxed pace.

Union Station was built in 1939 and was the last of the “Grand” stations built.

 clock tower and Palm trees union station Los Angeles

Clock Tower

The design is Spanish Mission Revival combined with Streamline Modern Art Deco. The exterior (white stucco with a red tile roof) and the gardens reflect the influence of Spain in California’s history.

entrance to union station los angeles

The Color and Culture of Union Station, Los Angeles

Inside Union Station, the archways and terra cotta tile floors carry out the Spanish design. The floors are so highly polished you can see your reflection in them, adding to the vast feeling of the space, though this station is one of the smaller stations built.

Passengers waiting at Union Station Los Angeles

Union Station waiting area, Los Angeles

art deco details union station los angeles

art deco details at Union Station

Spanish style mixes with streamline modern design elements throughout the waiting area. Get comfy in a huge leather seat, much like a club chair with a book or your laptop.  Union Station was built in an era when design didn’t seem to sacrifice to economy, even if it was built during the Great Depression.

union station meeting room

Meeting room?

I wandered into a bar that looked like it was straight out of a film noir; wood veneers, all dark and cozy, with a few intimate tables scattered about.

exterior courtyard dining union station, olvera street

exterior courtyard dining

Union Station is in the heart of historic downtown Los Angeles and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. If you go, plan to spend about half a day or more there, enjoying the sights. Have lunch on Olvera Street and then explore Union Station for yourself!

Where is your favorite train station?

If you enjoy historic walks read my post on Historic Downtown Los Angeles.


the color and culture of Olvera St. ©pennysadler 2012.Olvera Street, Los Angeles.

The Color and Culture of Olvera Street and union Station, Los Angeles, California

All content and photographs copyright Penny Sadler 2012.

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Mary @ Green Global Travel September 7, 2014 at 8:42 pm

I could embrace this side of LA. Get me away from all of the traffic and commercialism.

Penny Sadler September 9, 2014 at 8:32 pm

There are many little neighborhoods like this in LA. Just have to know where to find them.

Micki September 6, 2014 at 8:05 pm

Thanks for this! I’m actually a big fan of LA. The city gets a lot of bad press, but honestly there’s a lot to do and see in LA, if you just dig a little. I’d never heard of Olvera Street before!

Penny Sadler September 7, 2014 at 9:00 am

LA is good fun with lots of history. You’d like Olvera St. It is a bit small but you have a lot in the immediate area, Union Station, China Town, The Adobe, Pico House, oh and Philipe’s for a French dip sandwich.

Bethaney - Flashpacker Family September 6, 2014 at 12:10 pm

Beautiful and colourful!

Cat of Sunshine and Siestas September 6, 2014 at 6:14 am

Certainaly a lot more colorful than the Olvera it’s named for in Spain! Looks fun.

Aleah | SolitaryWanderer.com September 6, 2014 at 5:08 am

I love taking pictures of colorful places. They make everything so…alive! The quote from Sterling’s diary made me laugh. What a sense of humor 🙂

Terry at Overnight New York September 4, 2014 at 8:44 pm

1781? Nice to know Los Angeles has some serious history!

Penny Sadler September 4, 2014 at 8:58 pm

Terry, aren’t you a native of California?

noel September 4, 2014 at 6:02 pm

It’s wonderful to see well preserved places like this and also get a nice background and history. Thanks for sharing a little about this lovely area.

Penny Sadler September 4, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Thanks Noel!

Jessica (Barcelona Blonde) September 4, 2014 at 9:51 am

Ahh I love Olvera Street! Like you, I grew up in California but didn’t spend too much time in downtown L.A. I went when I was last home though, and there is so much good stuff to see.

Beautiful pictures, by the way!

Penny Sadler September 4, 2014 at 10:10 am

There really is a lot there. Thanks!

Wandering Educators September 3, 2014 at 9:02 am

Oh, these colors! Love them!

Penny Sadler September 4, 2014 at 10:10 am

Me Too!

Cool Building: Union Station, Los Angeles - Adventures of a Carry-on | Adventures of a Carry-on September 3, 2013 at 11:28 pm

[…] If you go, plan to spend about half a day or more there, enjoying the sights and having lunch on Olivera Street or in […]

Suitcase Stories (@Suitcases2) April 28, 2013 at 2:14 pm

I am a sucker for color and markets so this was right up my alley!

Penny April 28, 2013 at 8:27 pm

I know me too! 🙂 If you’re ever in LA the area around Olvera St. is a great tourism spot. Besides Olvera St. there’s Union Station and China Town. There’s also some famous place for french dips sandwiches, I can’t think of the name, I don’t eat them, hence I can’t remember. 🙂

Penny December 24, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Seems to be ok now,
I just liked it! LOL

cindy knoke December 24, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Love this post, but couldn’t get the “like” button to work! Happy Holidays!

Penny December 24, 2012 at 2:36 pm

How weird. Well computers and anything connected with them, i.e. interenet, not always perfect!
Happy Holidays to you too1

island traveler August 24, 2012 at 7:51 pm

The joys of colors and rich culture comes alive at Olvera Street! Beautiful.

Penny August 24, 2012 at 10:52 pm

Thank you for the nice comment. I think I must have been a Latina in another life. 🙂


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