The plaques commemorate historic buildings lining Main Street in the old pueblo, and the people associated with them. Text is in English and Spanish.
Main Street is one of the oldest streets in Los Angeles. Originally called by its Spanish name, Calle Principal, it was included in the first survey map of Los Angeles, drawn by Lt. E. O. C. Ord in 1849. The street ran from south of First Street to the north side of the Plaza. In 1883 the City Council passed an ordinance declaring that Bath Street would be widened to become an extension of Main Street. The work was carried out in 1886. In 1890 the portion of Main Street that ran from Arcadia Street to the Plaza was paved with granite paving blocks. With American rule in Los Angeles, street names were changed to their English equivalents during the 1870s.
Chinatown originally began in at El Pueblo and the Union Station site in 1860. Relocated to Broadway in 1938, its distinctive architecture, shops, restaurants and cultural organizations offer an interesting sample of the multicultural tradition of the City.
The Hammel Building on Main Street was constructed in 1909. Originally built as four light industrial shops with a partial basement storage area along Olvera Street, the building now fronts on Olvera Street and houses two ground level shops and two basement shops. marie Hammel, who built the Italian Hall next door in 1907, hired architects Hudson and Munsell to construct the building at a cost of $4,000. In 1913, the Hammel Building passed to Mrs. Hammel's daughter, Marie Hammel McLaughlin, who enlarged it on the Olvera Street Side. As Olvera Street was transformed into a Mexican market place in 1930, it was necessary to provide public access to the building from Olvera Street and staircases had to be constructed to the ground floor of the Hammel Building. Small basements were excavated during the 1940s to provide additional shops for Olvera Street merchants. Although the Main street facade has not changed significantly, the Olvera Street facade has been altered and repaired over the years.
The Italian Hall, designed by architect Julius Kraus, was built by the Pozzo Construction Company in 1907 for Marie Ruellan Hamme. The upper floors served as a center for the Italian organizations who used the hall for political meetings, banquets, weddings and theatrical (operatic) performances. Several stores occupied the lower floor. The Italian Hall is one of seven buildings on Olvera Street that were associated with the Italian community. The Societa Italiana de Mutua Beneficenza formed in 1877 moved its offices to the second floor in 1908 when the building opened for business. Various Italian societies, including the Circolo Operaio (Italian Work Circle) rented the building for events. In 1916, a political rally was held in the Hall by Emma Goldman, a well known political activist, feminist, and labor organizer. David Alfaro Siqueiros was invited to paint a mural in 1932 on the second floor exterior wall of the building. The mural, entitled "Tropical America," featured an Indian bound to a double cross, surmounted by an imperialist eagle, and surrounded by pre-Columbian symbols and revolutionary figures. The subject matter was considered hightly controversial. F. K. Ferenz, who had commissioned the mural was ordered to whitewash the portion that was visible from Olvera Street.
Doria Deighton Jones was the widow of wealthy industrial John Jones who died in 1876. The Jones family formerly lived in a large adobe home which was torn down in 1886 when Bath Street was widened and made an extension of Main Street. Doria had at first planned to build a hotel on the three lots where the adobe stood, but instead, because the area was changing from residential to industrial usage, she constructed a flat-roofed one-story building divided into five separate machine shops. One unit of the Jones Building was originally used as a cigar store and shooting gallery, while the rest of the building housed machine shops, plumbing and tin shops, harness and leather shops, and blacksmith shops. After Olvera Street became a Mexican market place in 1930, the front entrances of the Jones Building were reversed so that they opened on Olvera Street.
The Machine Shop is a one-and-a-half story building that was built on Main Street around 1910. It is located on the site of what is believed to have been the stables of Doria Deighton Jones' adobe home which was torn down in 1886, and was built by her daughter, Constance Jones Simpson. The first tenants of the building were engaged in such industries as tinsmithing, electroplating, metal patterning and machining. With the advent of the Mexican market place on Olvera Street in 1930, the uses of the Machine Shop were changed and the front doors were opened on Olvera Street, rather than Main Street. The first tenant was the "Leo Carrillo Theatre," followed by the "Olvera Street Puppet Theatre." The proscenium arch and segment of the stage still survive.
Freemasonry became popular in the United States in the 1850s and a lodge was started in Los Angeles in 1854. In 1858 Lodge 42 asked William Hayes Perry, a mason, and his partner, James Brady, to build a lodge room on the second floor of a building they were constructing at 426 North Main Street for their carpentry and furniture-making business. lodge 42 loaned Perry and Brady the money for the construction. The Masonic Hall was finished by November, after which the Masons paid a rent of $20 a month. The building was a two story unpainted brick structure with a symbolic "Masonic Eye" below the parapet. The Masons used this building for their meetings until 1868 when they moved to larger quarters further south. In December 1858, Perry and Brady dissolved their partnership and Perry took on a new partner, Wallace Woodworth, who shortly afterwards joined Lodge 42. Early members of Lodge 42 included many of the leading citizens of Los Angeles, including the first two mayors in the American period, Alpheus P. Hodges and Benjamin D. Wilson. During the early years of its life the Masonic Hall was primarily used as a furniture and cabinet-making store and was noted for its coffins. In the 1870s, the Main Street facade of the building was changed to conform more in appearance with the Pico House and the Merced Theatre next door to the north. The architect of this change may have been Ezra F. Kysor, who designed both buildings. The use of the Masonic Hall declined towards the end of the century as did the neighborhood, and by the late 1940s when its existence was threatened by the construction of the Hollywood-Santa Ana Freeway, the building had become a boarding house and a pawn shop. The Hall was saved, however, as a meeting place for Freemasons. In 1981 it was rededicated as the home of Los Angeles City Lodge 841.
The Merced Theatre was built in 1870 and is one of the oldest structures erected in Los Angeles for the presentation of dramatic performances. It served as the center of theatrical activity in the city from 1871 to 1876. The theatre was built by William Abbot, the son of Swiss immigrants who settled in Los Angeles in 1854. In 1858, he married the woman for whom he would name the theatre, Maria Merced Garcia, the daughter of Jose Antonio Garcia and Maria Guadalupe Urbe, who were long-time residents of the Los Angeles pueblo. The theatre was designed by Ezra F. Kysor, the architect of the Pico House. Similar to the Pico House, Kysor used the Italianate style, but made the building more ornate. The theatre was located on the second floor of the three-story building. The ceiling of the second story is higher than that of the Pico House next door, an adjustment to allow for the stage, scenery and props. Thus, the building itself rises somewhat above the Pico House. Construction was completed in December, 1870 and the first performance, a melodrama entitled "Fanchon the Little Cricket," opened on January 30, 1871. Performances were mainly given in English, although some productions were presented in Spanish. Ticket prices ranged from 50 cents in the balcony to $1.00 for "parquette chairs." The opening of Wood's Opera House in 1876, which was located only four doors south of the Merced, as well as a smallpox epidemic which struck the area that same year, led to the decline of the Merced Theatre. The last performance was given on New Year's Day 1877.
Pelanconi House & Pelanconi Warehouse:
The Pelanconi Warehouse and, behind it the Pelanconi House, are reminders of the active wine-making community in the area, dating back to the mid-19th century. The Pelanconi House was built by Italian vinter [sic], Giuseppi Covaccichi between 1855-57 and is the oldest house made of fired brick still standing in Los Angeles. Govaccichi and his partner, Giuseppi Gazzo, owned a winery located across Olvera Street. The Pelanconi House changed hands four times until 1871, when it and the winery were purchased by Antonio Pelanconi for whom the house is named. In 1866, Pelanconi, who came from the Lombardo region of Italy, married Isabel Ramirez, daughter of Juan Ramirez who owned much of what is now Olvera Street. In 1877, Pelanconi turned over the winery operation to his partner, Giacomo Tononi, and died two years later. Isabel married Tononi in 1881. The Pelanconi Warehouse was built in 1910 by Lorenzo Pelanconi (son of Antonio and Isabel) and his mother for storage of their wine. Senora Consuelo Castillo de Bonzo took over the Pelanconi House for her restaurant, Casa La Golondrina in 1930. She removed the rear wall of both the warehouse and the Pelanconi House in order to make one large room for the restaurant. It is the oldest restaurant on Olvera Street.
The Pico House was built by Pio Pico, last governor of California under Mexican rule, who lived almost the entire length of the nineteenth century from 1801 to 1894. This was the first three story building and the first grand hotel in Los Angeles. Pico chose architect Ezra F. Kysor to design the "finest hotel in Los Angeles." To raise funds for the building and furnishing of the hotel, Pio and his brother Andres sold most of their vast landholdings in the San Fernando Valley. Construction began on September 18, 1869, and the hotel opened for business on June 9, 1870. The hotel was built in the Italianate style, with deep set round-arched windows and doors. The Main Street and Plaza facades were stuccoed to resemble blue granite. The hotel had eighty two bedrooms and twenty one parlors as well as bathrooms and water closets for each sex on each floor. A French chef presided over a large dining room on the first floor. The Pico House was decorated with furniture of the best quality, with walnut pieces on the second floor and lighter woods but still "pleasing to the eye and of good quality" on the third floor. Many of the bedrooms opened into an interior court festooned with vines and birdcages. The prime period for the hotel was 1876 when the railroad came to Los Angeles and when Archduke Ludwig Salvator of Austria stayed there. Unfortunately, Pio Pico was not to profit from his hotel as he lost it to foreclosure in 1880 because of non-payment of debts. The hotel management changed frequently in the ensuing years. Many of the proprietors were of French or Italian origin. Around 1882 a balcony was added to the Plaza and Main street facades and its name was changed for several decades to the National Hotel. The hotel gradually declined and was taken over by the state in 1953.
Pio de Jesus Pico:
Pio de Jesus Pico (1801-1894) was the last Mexican governor of California and is one of the state's most remarkable historical figures. He witnessed and helped to shape nearly a century of California history. Although he recognized the vast changes that came about in Los Angeles, he remained a Californio in language and thought. He was born on May 5, 1801 and was the eldest son of a large family. As an afro-mestizo, Pico reflects the mixture of African, Indian and European ancestry which occurred in Mexico and throughout the Americas. He joined the army for a brief time, and in 1828 became a member of the Deputacion or Territorial Assembly. The following year, he received his first land grant of 8,922 acres near San Diego named Rancho Jamul. He and his younger brother, Andres, were awarded the 133,441 acre Rancho Santa Margarita in 1841. After a brief stint as governor in 1832, Pico became administrator of Mission San Luis Rey. In 1845 he led a popular coup against Governor Micheltorena which resulted in his rise to the governorship, a post which lasted until the arrival of invading United STates forces in 1846. Pico sold his vast landholdings in San Fernando Valley to provide capital for the construction and furnishing of the Pico House, the city's first three story building and first elegant hotel, which opened in 1870. Sadly, he lost the hotel and other properties to foreclosure only ten years later and then was swindled out of his home and rancho in present-day Whittier. Although he died a poor man, he remained a proud and stately figure.
Senora Francisca Gallardo was granted a house lot between Bath Street and Vine Street (later renamed Olvera Street) in 1847. In 1881 she gave the adobe to her niece, Eloisa Martinez de Sepulveda. When Bath Street was widened and made an extension of Main Street in 1886, Eloisa lost 1600 sq. feet of her mother's lot and part of the family adobe. As a replacement, the following year she built a combination business and residential building with an unusual Eastlake Victorian design. It had a triangular gable and two large bay windows topped with iron cresting. The rough brick facade on Main Street was painted a reddish brown color and penciled with white paint to resemble the precise lines of mortar between the bricks. The 22 room building had two large stores fronting on Main Street, and for boarders, fourteen bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor. Senora Sepulveda's private quarters in the rear were separated from the stores by a breezeway. In 1901 she gave the building to her favorite niece and goddaughter, Eloisa Martinez de Gibbs who married Edward Gibbs, a City Councilman. Several of the Gibbs children were born in the Sepulveda House. Senora Sepulveda died in 1903 and the Gibbs family moved away in 1905, but owned the building until the State of California took it over in 1958. In the 1930s, after the Mexican market place had opened on Olvera Street, Christine Sterling persuaded Forman Brown and his partners to open their "Yale Puppeteers" in the building. She also invited photographers Viroque Baker and Ernest Pratt to set up their studios on the second floor. In the 1940s, during World War II, a USO canteen was located in the building, providing recreation for the thousands of troops passing through Union Station.
Doria Deighton Jones built what is now known as the Simpson-Jones Building in 1894. The site had formerly contained a large adobe which she, her husband John Jones and their children occupied. The adobe was torn down when Bath Street was widened in 1886 to become an extension of Main Street. The Simpson-Jones Building was constructed to house William Gregory Engines, also known as Moline Engines. Later tenants were the Diamond Shirt Company and the Soochow Restaurant. When Doria died in 1908, her property was divided amongst her three children and her daughter, Constance Jones Simpson inherited the three buildings close to the Plaza on Main Street. Mrs. Simpson opposed Christine Sterling's idea of closing vehicle traffic on Olvera Street and fought the matter all the way to the California Supreme Court. In 1960, the Simpson-Jones Building was altered to create the appearance of a Mexican bank.
Back to public art at the Union Station and El Pueblo