The oldest existing house in Los Angeles, and you can visit it for free! (Mostly)
You really don’t expect to find the Avila Adobe when you’re strutting through El Pueblo de Los Angeles. I know you’ve missed it from the outside of the Pueblo, where you’ve probably driven past it a hundred times without noticing. Heck, if you’re busy pricing out that otherwise hard-to-find Pittsburgh Steelers’ Poncho, you might miss it all together. But it’s worth a stop and a look, not only because it’ll cost you the low-low price of nothing, but because it’s a valuable piece of Los Angeles’ History.
Built in 1818, the House was the home of Francisco Avila, a wealthy Cattle Rancher. According to Wikipedia, Avila spent his days working at his ranch during the week. On his days off, he came to the Pueblo to conduct business, entertain friends and family; or prepare for services at the Nuestra Señora Reina de los Angeles Asistencia across the plaza. The Avila Adobe was considered gracious in its day. It had a number of spacious rooms with an ample number of windows. It served many a social gathering with the Avilas hosting these events in the large parlor.
Things got a little tough during the Mexican-American War. Francisco had died, and his Widow still had possession of the house, and the U.S. Forces, led by Commodore Stockton was bearing down on Los Angeles. The folks at El Pueblo, apparently didn’t get the memo and drove him back to San Diego. The Americans kept trying to take Los Angeles for a while, trying and failing, until finally triumphing at the Battle of…are you ready for this? Rio San Gabriel near Whittier, Pico Rivera and Montebello, about ten miles south-east of downtown Los Angeles. After that, came the Battle of La Mesa, and the inhabitants of the house fled for their lives. American Troops occupied the house the remainder of the war until the signing of the Treaty of Cahuenga.
The House went on to pass through various Avila family members, some living there, some merely renting. It was damaged by an Earthquake in 1870. It eventually became a boarding house, and was finally condemned by the City of Los Angeles in 1928.
It was an Englishwoman named Christine Sterling who helped spearhead the project to restore not only the Adobe but the entire area that had become a bit of a Latin skid row. With the help of Harry Chandler of the Los Angeles Times, and the current owner of the property Sophia Rimpau, they managed to stave off the wrecking ball and restore the house to its former glory.
Today’s visitors will find it decently well-kept up. It’s only going to cost you an hour of your time to stroll through, and learn a little about the history of old Los Angeles. The House is very good order, with furnishings provided by Florence Dodson de Shoneman, a descendant of the Californian Sepulveda family. There is a museum within the museum showing a brief history of Water in Los Angeles. Fans of the movie Chinatown should be familiar with how it all turns out. This is notable because in 2005 they discovered an unexpected portion of the Zanja Madre (Mother Ditch) which transported water into the pueblo years ago…which is very good historical news. The bad part is as a result of the discovery, a good chunk of the water exhibit has been closed off.
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP, PEOPLE: Nothing really to be aware of. There is a Museum Shop at the back of the Adobe, as well as Bathroom Facilities. I get the feeling that there usually is more going on at the Avila Adobe, but the discovery of the Zanja Madre has thrown things off.
PARKING: Here’s the part that’s gonna cost you. The Pueblo already costs you about $15 bucks to park, so in a way, going to the Avila is very much not free. However, if you want to pull of a good lunch along with a visit, and still keep the cost to a minimum, you can always park (and eat) at Phillipe’s the Original. I will say I haven’t tried this yet, so I don’t know how it’ll go over with the crew at Phillipe’s.
10 Olvera Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012