In the heart of Olvera Street in the historic area of El Pueblo in downtown Los Angeles you’ll find an assuming house at number 10. What makes this address unique is that it’s actually the oldest standing structure in the city.
Some background: founded by Spanish colonizers in 1781, El Pueblo (or ‘the village’) is the oldest section of Los Angeles, and the spot the city was founded. Surrounded by Spring, Macy, Alameda and Arcadia streets in the downtown district, the area draws two million visitors each year to witness the way of life before United States rule. The district is centred around the historic Plaza, and was Los Angeles’ city center under Spanish (1781-1821), Mexican (1821-1847) and United Stated (after 1847) rule.
The Plaza is surrounded by many notable buildings, including the Nuestra Senora La Reina de Los Angeles, or Plaza Church, built in 1822, and the Merced Theatre, constructed in 1869 and the Avila Adobe, LA’s oldest residence.
Avila Adobe, at 10 Olvera Street, was built by wealthy cattle rancher, Francisco Avila in 1818. A native of Sinaloa, Mexico, Avila came to Los Angeles around 1794 and began grazing cattle, his ranching business growing his wealth significantly. By 1810 Avila had became the Alcalde (Mayor) of the pueblo, whose population had grown to 415 people.
The home itself has a rich history: Avila’s family lived in the house until 1868 when it was taken over by US Navy Commodore Robert Stockton as his temporary headquarters when the United States first took over the city. From 1868 it was rented to various people but over time became condemned along with the rest of Olvera Street. In 1926 wealthy socialite Christine Sterling began a public program to restore the home and surrounding area, opening Olvera Street as a Mexican marketplace and historic center. Avila Adobe is now open for visitors.
Walking through the home gives you a glimpse into how the first settlers lived under Spanish rule. The building itself is made from a mix of riverbank-sourced wood, clay from the LA River and tar from the La Brea Tar Pits. A mix of Mission, Spanish and ranchero aesthetics are evident in the white stucco exterior and walls and large outdoor living space.
Entering through the large courtyard at the back of the home which encompasses a multi-purpose space of play area, workspace and kitchen, complete with outdoor oven for cooking. Both inside and out the home has been furnished to replicate the original home. Inside showcasing the restoration project: bedroom furnishings, parlor and study with writing desk, fabrics, crockery, utensils and all the accoutrement of a home of that period – even the rancher’s beloved saddle. Crucifixes adorn the walls, cowhide rugs on the floors and copper cookware and wooden furniture and utensils. Outside cacti adorn the yard.
Avila Adobe is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and honored as California State Landmark No. 145. The home, and surrounding Olvera Street is well worth a visit, for locals and visitors alike.
Avila Adobe is located at 10 Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles. It is open daily from 9am-4pm, and entry is free. For tour reservations and information please contact (213) 628-1274 or (213) 625-3800.
Images by Sarah Link