Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Revisiting El Pueblo de Los Angeles

So was it "Our Lady" or wasn't it? Until I revisited Olvera Street earlier this month, I'd always believed that the original name of my birthplace was "La Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula." I believe I learned that at Budlong Elementary School in sixth grade. The story stuck with me.

The oldest church in the city, built between 1818-1822, always has been called La Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles, Our Lady Queen of Angels Church. But the official brochure I picked up on Olvera Street says this: "The words 'Nuesta Senora' are not part of the city's original name." What?

A little Googling brought up a lot of variations...and a lot of disagreements.
El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles.
El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reyna de los Angeles.
El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles de la Porciuncula.
El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reyna de los Angeles del Rio Porciuncula.
El Pueblo de la Reina de los Angeles Sobre el Rio de Porciuncula.
El Pueblo del Rio de Nuestra Senora la Reyna de los Angeles de Porciuncula.

Admiring a mural of Dolores Del Rio.
The Historical Society of Southern California attempted to solve the dilemma with a publication in 2005. Longtime Los Angeles historian Doyce B. Nunis Jr., for over 40 years, editor of the journal, the Southern California Quarterly, said this: "The Spanish named Los Angeles El Pueblo de la Reyna de los Angeles. That means 'the town of the Queen of Angels,' "

Thumbing through the book to Page 158, he pointed to a reproduction of a 220-year-old map from UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library.

"You see it at the top of the map, 'El Pueblo de la Reyna de los Angeles.' That's the name on the first handwritten map in 1785. You have to look at the original documents, and that's what we've done. The name is right there." The map uses "Reyna"; other sources spell it "Reina."

A full review of this publication can be found here:

Linda with a mural promoting the Ramona Pageant
Rather than drive to Los Angeles from Orange County, my friend Linda and I took Amtrak to Union Station. We walked across the street and secured a patio table at El Paseo Inn, a 1930s landmark, a restaurant I visited back in the sixties and seventies. In those days it featured a large dance floor in the middle of the dining room, with Folklorico performances. The building housing the restaurant dates back to the 1870s, and originally was a winery. During prohibition, the owners switched to producing soft drinks. El Paseo Inn moved from its original location to this one in 1953.

It's served enchiladas, tacos and Margaritas to hungry local luminaries, and even United States Presidents, including George H. W.  and William Jefferson Clinton. I couldn't find out what they dined on, but I feasted on chicken tacos, accompanied by a draft Modelo.

 Avila Adobe, built in 1818 by a former Los Angeles alcade (mayor), Francisco José Avila , our next stop, remains the oldest house in Los Angeles.
Entrance, Avila Adobe
Over the decades, the structure served first as his family home, then as a restaurant and a rooming house, before remaining vacant and deteriorating. Condemned in 1926 by the City Health Department, it was rescued by Christine Sterling, who began a public campaign to save and restore the adobe. Open now to the public as a museum, it's furnished as it might have been in the 1840s.

Our last stop on this scorching afternoon, with temperatures soaring near 100 degrees, turned out to be the America Tropical Interpretative Center, which, thanks to support from the Getty Conservation Institute, has been stabilized and preserved, rather than "restored." David Alfaro Siquieros (1896–1974), a great Mexican artists of the twentieth century, painted América Tropical in 1932 on the second story exterior wall of the Italian Hall, located in the center of Olvera Street. It depicts a Mexican Indian, crucified on a double cross beneath an American eagle, with two sharpshooters taking aim at the eagle from a nearby rooftop. It symbolized American imperialism.

According to a Los Angeles Times article, this mural scandalized L.A. elites who might have expected lush foilage and colorful birds. Consequently, the mural was whitewashed, and Siqueiros  deported from the U.S. after his visa ran out.

We wandered through the interesting exhibit hall downstairs, with artifacts and paintings depicting Mexican cultural influences on Los Angeles, before walking up a flight of stairs to the viewing panel for the mural. Though the whitewash covering it has faded, the mural has not been "restored."  Nobody else's brush has touched it. It remains purely the work of Siquieros, nearly a century after he painted it.
Still a hundred percent Siquieros' mural.
We took MetroLink back home, still speculating on the original name of my birth city. I'm still embracing including "Nuestra Senora" in the title...I love the pronoun and the gender. Los Angeles remains "Our Lady," no matter what the historians say.

For more on Olvera Street's history:

1 comment:

  1. I love reading your informative and fun posts. I like going along for the "ride."