[This article was added on 23 October 1998]

The following extract from a 1935 book provides a short tour of the plaza area in the year 1850. The author will replace this extract by a more thorough tour of the Plaza including later sites not covered herein and including illustrations as available.

The extract is taken from J. Gregg Layne, Annals of Los Angeles From the Arrival of the First White Men to the Civil War, 1769-1861 (San Francisco: California Historical Society, 1935), 50-52. The footnotes appear as in the original book.


The center of life and activity, both business and social, in the Pueblo in 1850, and for several years to follow, was the Plaza.

But while the Plaza was the center of the community, both geographically and economically, entering it was almost like entering a maze, for the traveler from the east. He followed Aliso Road into Calle Canal, as Los Angeles Street was then called on account of the zanja paralleling it, where he found his way blocked to the north be a long, low adobe that closed the upper end of Los Angeles Street from side to side. This was the home of Don Ygnacio Coronel. To enter the Plaza therefore, unless he proceeded on over to Calle Principal, and thence north, he must wend his way up a little narrow street, or alley, just at the eastern end of Los Angeles Street, running north from Aliso, called Calle de los Negros, or by the Americano, "Nigger Alley." This street, though but a block long, housed every vice known to man, and was long termed the most wicked street in California. The "street of the Negroes" carried on in sin and crime until it was abandoned upon the opening of Los Angeles Street to the Plaza in the eighties, and the old Coronel home was demolished.

Upon reaching the Northern end of "Nigger Alley" one found himself in a small quadrangle known as Ocampo's Plaza, so named because Francisco Ocampo, the owner, had his town home there.[19] It was in this little square that most of the cock fighting, a most popular diversion of the paisano, took place. From Ocampo's Plaza, entrance was made to the Plaza de Los Angeles at its present southeast corner, and one found himself at last in the very heart of the City of Angels.

There were but two other entrances to the Plaza in 1850, and they were from the north and south at the west end, it being traversed by Calle Principal which ran from the river south past the old church. From the north side of the Plaza, midway between the east and west ends, ran a short street, then called Vinate, now Olvera Street, and from the south side, just about opposite Olvera Street, Sanchez Street gave an outlet for a short distance, but both of these were blind streets.


As every well-organized community has its aristocratic residential section, so Los Angeles had hers. Living on the Plaza in 1850 was still a mark of distinction, and the first families of the Pueblo had their homes on or near the old square.

On entering the Plaza from Calle de los Negros, on the east side, we would have come first to the home of Don Ygnacio Del Valle,[20] then to the two-story home of Vicente Lugo, built by Juan de Dios Ballestero at a very early date, and still standing.[21] On the north side of the Plaza, with an eighty-six foot front, running from the northeast corner to Olvera Street, was the long low adobe home of Judge Agustin Olvera, considered one of the finest homes in the town.[22] Up Olvera Street a few rods was the home of Francisco Ávila, known today as Stockton's Headquarters and one of the show places of modern Los Angeles. Between Olvera and Main streets was a long adobe, set in a bower of shrubbery, belonging to Downey and McFarland. The western side of the Plaza was taken up by the "Church of Our Lady" and the little cemetery at its side. On the southwest of the Plaza was the pretentious home of José Antonio Carrillo, the center of the social life of the Pueblo. The Carrillo house, an L-shaped building with a gabled roof, which gave the impression of two stories, occupied the south front of the square from Main to Sanchez Street, and down that little lane, in their two-story home, lived Vicente Sanchez and his son Tomas, later a most popular sheriff of the county;[23] while across the street from them was the town house of Don Francisco Sepúlveda, the grantee of Rancho San Vicente y Santa Monica.[24] Between Sanchez Street and the entrance to Ocampo's Plaza stood the town house of Pio Pico;[25] and now having made the rounds, we find ourselves back at the entrance to "Nigger Alley."

All of the better people of the town, however, could not crowd around the Plaza, so in 1850 we find the home of José Maria Lugo, a brother of Vicente, several blocks below the Plaza on San Pedro Street, a comfortable adobe over a hundred feet in length, between the present Second and Third streets, and which was only demolished in the early part of the present century to permit the widening of the street. The "Palacio"[26] of Abel Stearns was only a block south of the Plaza on Calle Principal, while the home of Cristobal Aguilar, a man of real importance both under the rule of Mexico as well as under the American régime, was located on Upper Main, later San Fernando Street, a couple of blocks north of the church. Two other important citizens had their homes even farther south than Don Abel Stearns: Eulogio de Célis, who lived across the street from the Bella Union Hotel on Main Street, where the Lafayette Hotel was built in 1856, and José Antonio Rocha, whose large tile-roofed adobe was a block farther south on Primavera; while the influential Lopez family lived across the river along Paredon Blanco.


In the year 1850 there were but three American families living in Los Angeles--that is, but three families in which both the husband and wife were Americans, and these three families were those of John G. Nichols, J. S. Mallard, and Louis Granger.[27] It is true that many other Americans had settled in the Pueblo and were men of worth, but none, except these three had brought their wives with them. The other Americans who had families had married Californian wives, and many had adopted the customs of the paisanos.

While the American pioneer was of good stock, and his influence was to build the country more firmly than it had yet been done, the real "aristocracy" of the old City of Los Angeles was composed of the better Spanish families, and the names of Lopez, Carrillo, Sanchez, Sepúlveda, Lugo, Dominguez, Aguilar, Pico, Machado, Coronel, Del Valle, Ávila, Garfias, Célis, Reyes, Ruiz, Alvarado, Bandini, Yorba, Vejar, Palomares, Ybarra, and Alanis, have always stood out among the leaders, both socially and politically, in early Los Angeles history.

[19] H. H. Bancroft, History of California, II, 307.

[20] J. M. Guinn, "The Story of a Plaza," Annual Pub. Hist. Soc. Southern Calif., IV, 247.

[21] H. H. Bancroft, History of California, II, 353.

[22] Ibid., II, 350.

[23] J. M. Guinn, "The Story of a Plaza," Annual Pub. Hist. Soc. Southern Calif., IV, 247.

[24] H. H. Bancroft, History of California, II, 248.

[25] Ibid., II, 526.

[26] Ibid., II, 354.

[27] Ibid., II, 349.