Week 162: Chinatown / Olvera Street / Little Tokyo

February 10, 2019

10,000 Steps a Day in L.A. #2, Downtown's Cultural Triangle, 4.5 miles

After last week's rainout, Barbara and I were determined to squeeze a "sidewalk" hike between storms and headed downtown. Haddad's hike combined four areas we've hiked before, separately, and it provided a wake-up call on how walking-distance close these four (including the Civic Center) sections of L.A. cultural history combine geographically. We began on Hill Street in Chinatown at the West Gate of Central Plaza. One of the first malls in the US, Central Plaza opened in 1938, a year after the original Chinatown, settled 1/2 mile south in 1852, was demolished to build Union Station. We crossed through the confetti-littered Plaza decked out in red lanterns from yesterday's Chinese New Year Parade (Happy Year of the Pig!) and past the iconic restaurant/dive bar, Hop Louie, modeled after Bejing's Summer Palace and called the Golden Pagoda at its 1941 opening. At the other end of the Plaza, we headed south on Broadway and east on Ord Street past the setting for the closing scene ("Forget it, Jake") of Chinatown at Spring St., then turned right on Alameda at Philippe's toward historic Union Station, according to Haddad, "the last great train terminal built in the US."  We had a lot of historic ground to cover so instead of going inside the terminal we turned into Paseo De La Plaza, ground zero of L.A.'s Spanish beginnings as a pueblo to serve and feed the Spanish civilians and soldiers protecting the nearby mission built to colonize Alta California Natives. L.A.'s thirteen-million metro population of today started with forty-four men/women/children in eleven families, plus Spanish soldiers, who settled near the Zanje Madre (L.A. River) in 1781. The settlers shifted away from river flooding to the now-historic plaza off Olvera Street that, by 1820, had become the economic center and community heart of SoCal. Barbara and I made a loop through Olvera Street, stopping for a photo of Avila Adobe, the oldest (1818) surviving residence in L.A. Exiting Olvera, we paused to read the placard on 1869's Pico House, L.A.'s first 3-story building. Across the street, Our Lady Queen of Angels, the 1822 church built on the site of the ruins of the 1784 century mission "sub-station." Spanish rule was replaced by Mexican rule in Alta CA in 1821, and then in 1847, the  Americans claimed possession. From the entrance to Paseo De La Plaza, it was a quick walk to Little Tokyo, settled by short-term Japanese agricultural workers in 1885. We stopped to pay respect at the Go For Broke monument to Japanese/American soldiers who served in WWII while their families were interned in camps to prevent espionage (a racist embarrassment—over 60% were US citizens.) Before WWII, Little Tokyo was a vibrant Japanese community, during the war it was abandoned. As we walked on, we read the before-and-after the war history marked on the sidewalk in front of each old building along 1st Street. Another stop at an old Buddhist Temple on 1st, then a walk through Japanese Village Plaza where we found a “wish tree,” filled with hopes for the new year. We left Little Tokyo for our last stop—the Fort Moore Memorial on Hill Street. Originally Fort Hill, the location was chosen by original settlers as a security outpost that overlooked the pueblo and the vineyards beyond. When US troops tried to occupy L.A., they imposed martial law and left Capt. Gillespie, a real jerk, in charge. Angelinos rebelled against Gillespie's cold, harsh treatment, fought off the troops, and forced the Siege of Los Angeles. US reinforcements commandeered Fort Hill/Moore, and after the two sides eventually reached an agreement, the American flag was raised on there on July 4, 1847. The shrine to the US troops would be a big deal in most cities, but L.A. is so rich with memorable landmarks that it's easy to miss the largest bas-relief military monument in the US, commemorating a key event in L.A. history. From Hill Street, Barbara and I walked back into Chinatown toward the car and a stop at our personal favorite Chinatown landmark: the 75-yo Phoenix Bakery on Broadway. Their strawberry whipped-cream cake is historic. Oh, yes, we did. 

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