The El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument is the oldest section of Los Angeles – a 44 acre public park in downtown LA regarded as the city’s “birthplace”.
What is currently known as the Old Plaza (Los Angeles) is at the center of this historical district. This place has seen much history being made under the rule of the Spanish (1781-1821), Mexican (1821-1847) and United States of America (1847 onwards).
The Spanish colonization ordered by King Carlos III was carried out under the direction of Governor Felipe de Neve. This was when the town (that later became the city of Los Angeles), received the name El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles (that mouthful is Spanish for The Town of our Lady Queen of the Angels!).
Felipe de Neve, Governor of California, is the person credited with the founding of Los Angeles, as ordered by King Carlos III of Spain. In 1777 Neve decided to establish civic pueblos in California to support the military presidios.
The plan was that these new pueblos would dilute the power of the missions by reducing the military’s dependence on them. It was also envisaged that these pueblos would help develop industry and agriculture. Neve identified Santa Barbara, San Jose and Los Angeles as the sites for the new pueblos.
Thus, the Old Plaza actually preceded the city. Governor Felipe de Neve’s 1779 document, Reglamento, laid down the laws that authorized the founding of Los Angeles as Spanish California’s second civilian pueblo.
The regulations spelt out in the Reglamento, ratified by King Carlos in 1781, was LA’s earliest urban planning document. It directed the pueblo’s founding colonists to build their houses around a rectangular plaza of 200 by 300 feet, with the plaza corners aligned with the cardinal directions of the compass.
Governor Neve saw the plaza as the geographical center from which Los Angeles should radiate – and thus it was that the plaza became the heart of El Pueblo de Los Angeles.
Thus Los Angeles in its early years was, by design, built around a well defined center - the Old Plaza. The plaza remained its political, social and commercial heart even as Los Angeles transitioned from Spanish colonial outpost to burgeoning American city.
It is therefore no coincidence that plaza front residences were much sought after and favoured by the pueblo aristocracy – the homes of the Olveras, the Lugos, the Avilas, the Carillos, the Picos and the Sepulvedas were all clustered around the plaza.
A plaque in the Old Plaza commemorates the founding of LA – it states: “On September 4, 1781, eleven families of pobladores (original settlers) – who numbered 44 persons including children arrived at this place from the Gulf of California to establish a pueblo (Spanish for town or village) which was to become the City of Los Angeles."
Today El Pueblo and the Old Plaza at its center, is a living museum that reflects the history, culture, legacy and ethnic diversity of Native American, African American, Spanish, Mexican, Chinese, Italian and French who were all part of the early historical foundation of Los Angeles and who contributed in many ways to make it the teeming world city that it has since become.
The Old Plaza is today a gathering spot, venue for many events, cultural hub, a beautiful plaza dotted with museums, twenty seven historic buildings and a Mexican marketplace for shopping and dining. El Pueblo also has the most diverse range of architectural styles that can be seen in any one place at Los Angeles.
Best way to soak in the Old Plaza perhaps, is the way we did it - pick up a takeaway food bag, slowly munch on it, sitting on one of the many sun-warmed stone benches around the gazebo. Maybe you’ll share your lunch with a homeless person, and that is not a bad thing either.
Even with its family friendly atmosphere, the Plaza has a perpetual buzz about it – there’s colour, culture, music, entertainment, food. There’s always something happening here – to watch, to listen, to savour.
Matachines in gorgeously colourful regalia doing some lively, energetic dances add to the electricity in the air. There are people just chilling out, and sadly, there are also homeless people taking a nap, rummaging through the trash cans or staring vacantly into the middle distance.
El Pueblo de Los Angeles was designated a state historic monument in 1953 and then found a listing in the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.