I was born in Los Angeles and am extremely proud of my heritage. Though highly touristy, a favorite place to visit is the El Pueblo de Los Angeles downtown where Los Angeles began in the 1700s. There are excellent docent tours offered by the L.A. Conservancy. Olvera Street itself is the biggest tourist attraction, but the simple original La Placita Church is also in this square. The mural of Our Lady of Guadalupe below sits near the church and a picture of the church is below Our Lady.
La Placita is the oldest Catholic Church in Los Angeles. It was first established in 1784 as a chapel. Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Angeles (Our Lady Queen of the Angels Church) or Old Plaza Church as it is also known was completed in 1822. The newer minimalist-style Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels is only a few blocks from here as well. Initially opposed to its construction, I love it now as a central gathering place not only for Catholics, but a community resource for all of Los Angeles. It's archtecture and art is a post for another day. By the way, though I later converted, I was not raised as a Catholic child, but all California kids are steeped in our founding traditions. We study California history in the fourth grade, including the founding of the missions throughout the state. Fourth grade kids for generations build replicas of missions. Incidentally, an excellent exhibit on Father Junipero Serra and the missions is currently on display at the Huntington Library in San Marino. I will definitely visit during the holidays.
The original La Placita Church still serves as an active parish. Under the leadership of Father Oliveres in the 1980s La Placita declared itself the first Catholic Church to be a sanctuary for refugees from the civil wars in Central America in defiance of the I.N.S. To say this was controversial is an understatement. Although Father Oliveres was transferred to Bolivia in 1990 two new priests, Father Steve Niskanen and Arnold Abelardo, re-declared the church as a sanctuary for immigrants, began the Centro San Juan del Immigrante to give legal and medical aid to immigrants and more in 2002 and later.
There are surveyor posts in front of La Placita Church that mark the first mapped boundaries in 1858 of the village that became Los Angeles. Two Bicentennial Historical Plaques (one in English the other Spanish) were dedicated by then Mayor Tom Bradley in 1981.
I worked downtown for four years in the 1980s and often ate lunch or went to social functions on Olvera Street. I just love the gathering of families there for baptisms, weddings and funerals, many of them colorfully dressed more in the Latino tradition vs. the fashionistas seen on the westside of L.A. Our Lady plays a huge role in early L.A. as well as the L.A. of today.
Yesterday's Daily Breeze, the local paper, ran a fascinating feature talking about Our Lady's role in the city's culture, "A Timeless Image, Our Lady of Guadalupe Brings Hope to Devotees Around the Southland," if you are interested.
I adore California, every square inch of it, and Los Angeles is wondrous to me, in spite of the traffic. We are so much more than our consistently glorious weather and the entertainment industry. I encourage you to visit someday if you haven't already. Thanks to Rebecca for hosting us on our Journey of Twelve Days of Mary leading up to the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.