Nobody Drives in LA — The Los Angeles Grand Tour

The Grand Tour, for the unfamiliar, was a custom that arose in Britain in the mid-1600s, which involved upper class young British men touring around Europe as part of their cultural education. By the 1800s, the custom had spread from the British upper classes to the nouveau riche of Europe, the Americas, and the Philippines. Although initially limited to men — accompanied by a chaperone and guided by a cicerone — it eventually opened up to women. The point was, among other things, to expose the traveler to art and the cultural legacy of classical antiquity… and to have one’s portrait painted in exotic settings (basically “travel selfies”). Although the Grand Tour faded away, people still go on multi-country vacations, robotically checking off museums and sites, and striving for sophistication. And isn’t The Trip, the series starring Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan, more of an heir of the Grand Tour than Clarkson, Hammond, May, and Wilman‘s Grand Tour?

Eating is one of the best parts of any adventure, of course, and along the way, travelers on the Grand Tour inevitably were exposed to unfamiliar cuisines. My favorite example of this was the Maccaronis — a group of incredibly effeminate English foodies who developed a taste for Italian food (well why wouldn’t they?). Their incredible foppishness made them the target of caricatures and ridicule but, at the same time, “very macaroni” became slang for fashionability — which is why the British Army mocked naive and unsophisticated Yankees for thinking that sticking a feather in one’s had was all that it took to make one a dandy, hence “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

A macaroni dressing room, by I.W., 26 June 1772

“What does any of this have to do with Los Angeles?” you may be asking yourself around now. I will tell you. Los Angeles is one of (perhaps the most) the most diverse cities in the world. It’s home to the US’s largest communities of Australians, Burmese, Canadians, Indonesians, and Mongolians. Metro Los Angeles is home to the world’s largest communities of Armenians, Belizeans, Cambodians, Filipinos, Guatemalans, Hawaiians, Iranians, Koreans, Mexicans, Salvadorans, Taiwanese, Thai, and Vietnamese (outside of their respective homelands). There are or have been in the past at least three distinct Koreatowns, five Filipinotowns, five Chinatowns, and eight Japantowns. Today there are fifteen “official” ethnic enclaves and at least fourteen colloquially recognized ones, and at least eighteen that have mostly vanished. All of this is to say that to the local explorer, you can without too much difficulty get a bit of a sense of the wider world without ever leaving home.

The Los Angeles Grand Tour route

And so, the idea for the Los Angeles Grand Tour hit me last week and I set out to figure out whether or not it would be reasonable to visit every named ethnic enclave in Metro Los Angeles in a single day. I’m afraid that it’s probably not — or at least, not in any way that would be illuminating or enjoyable. I suppose one could drive from enclaves outside of the City of Los Angeles — Little Britain, Cambodia Town, Little Arabia, Little Seoul, Little Saigon, Little India, and Little Taipei — but that would leave no time to even exit the automobile and where’s the fun in that? Besides, if you exclusively rely on a car to get around, you’ll never know anything about anywhere except for the automobile’s interior. Because there are several ethnicities reprinted by more than one enclave (e.g. Los Angeles‘s Filipinotown and Philippine Village, Long Beach‘s Little Manila, and West Covina‘s Little Manila). I figured I’d settle on one enclave per ethnicity — except in the cast of Little Osaka and Little Tokyo — because both are on the way to other enclaves. I suppose, though, that visiting both of those will underscore the highly distinct personalities of enclaves like those. The same is, of course, true of all ethnic enclaves. Little Seoul barely resembles Koreatown., for example. In fact, parts of Koreatown barely resemble other parts of Koreatown.

I haven’t had time to undertake this Grand Tour just yet but hope to do so soon. Longer days allow for a more relaxed pace and more time to enjoy each enclave. On the other hand, walking is the best way to see a place and bicycling is the best way to get there, I’d rather not do it on the hottest days of summer. I suppose a Saturday would be best — as most businesses will presumably be open and many have the day off. The route that I have created is about 80 kilometers (50 miles) long. The riding portions between enclaves add up to about 50 kilometers (30 miles) and just walking through the enclaves adds up to about 30 kilometers (17.5 miles). At a slower-than-average pace, that means roughly three hours of cycling and six hours of walking which — if my math is correct — adds up to nine hours. A Grand Tour is not a race, though, and I’d like to linger, wander, eat, drink, and even relax at points. There are currently about fifteen hours of sunlight in a Los Angeles day. If, for any reason, someone wants to join for part of all of this Grand Tour, you’re welcome to join. if you undertake it on your own, please share your experiences in the comments. There are thirteen train stations along the route of the Los Angeles Grand Tour making it fairly easy to join or depart the undertaking — not to mention an uncounted number of bus stops.

Here are some of the things to expect.


From my home in Silver Lake, the first leg is a ride past the pretty but fenced-off Rowena Reservoir, the handsome John Marshall High School, across the Shakespeare Bridge, and through charming Los Feliz Village to Little Armenia. If the traveler doesn’t want to begin in Silver Lake, a good starting (and ending) point would be Vermont / Sunset Station, which is served by the B Line subway.


LITTLE ARMENIA

The first ethnic enclave on the tour is Little Armenia. Little Armenia emerged in the early 1970s and was finally officially recognized by the city of Los Angeles in 2000. A good place to dismount is beneath Barnsdall Art Park. From there, stroll up Hollywood Boulevard past several Armenian bakeries and note the steeple of St. Garabed looming in the background. Carousel, established in 1984, is a good spot for a Lebanese-Armenian meal. 24 April is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day and on that day, streets in the neighborhood are usually closed to cars and host throngs of flag-waving Armenians.


THAI TOWN

Next, the traveler will arrive in Thai Town, which Little Armenia bleeds into. Although Little Armenia is both a residential and commercial enclave, Thai Town is much more commercial, with relatively few Thai living in the neighborhood. Although there are some notable Thai restaurants on Sunset Boulevard, most are concentrated on Hollywood. Thai Town emerged in the late 1970s and was finally recognized by the City of Los Angeles in 1999. There are too many Thai places to choose from to single one out, as well as bookstores, markets, and other amenities. Do make a point of stopping by Thailand Plaza, built in 1992 with a spirit house out front. Also, keep your eyes peeled for the gleaming aponsi which look over the sidewalk. Songkran, the Thai New Year, falls in the middle of April. Most years, Hollywood Boulevard is closed to traffic around that date for celebrations that can be fun but quite crowded.


At the western edge of Thai Town is Hollywood/Western Station, another station served by the B Line. Hop back on the bike and ride west. You’ll pass Palms Thai, which outgrew its Thai Town digs, the Fonda and Pantages theaters, and arrive in Downtown Hollywood‘s heart, Hollywood and Vine — easily the best intersection in the neighborhood (don’t get me started on Hollywood and Highland). There’s another B Line station here, too, Hollywood/Vine Station. From there, head south on Vine, take a right on Fountain, head south on Highland, and then head west on Santa Monica Boulevard.


LITTLE ODESSA

Dismount once again at Plummer Park, and stroll through Little Odessa. Little Odessa emerged with the arrival of Russian Jews in the late 1970s and then got a second injection of Russian immigration in the late 1980s, back when the USSR was collapsing. There were efforts to get it recognized as the “Little Russia Business District” in the 2000s, but they fizzled. I haven’t spent much time in Little Odessa and so I cannot recommend any particular restaurant or business as yet. At Havenhurst, hop back on the bicycle and continue down Santa Monica Boulevard.


TEHRANGELES

Pass the Los Angeles Country Club and zig-zag through some quieter streets to get to the next enclave, Tehrangeles. Tehrangeles is home to Attari Sandwich Shop, which opened in 1978 and is the oldest Iranian restaurant in the city. A year later, the Iranian Revolution erupted and in the years that followed, many more Iranian businesses appeared. In 1980, Mashti Shirvani took over a shuttered ice cream parlor, Mugsy Malone, gave it an Iranian makeover, and re-opened it as Mashti Malone’s — another celebrated establishment in the neighborhood. The intersection of Westwood and Wilkins Avenue was designated Persian Square in 2010 but it’s not a square in any meaningful sense, since there are cars — although there’s no reason that this vibrant section of Westwood Boulevard, which is paralleled by service alleys, couldn’t thrive as a car-free promenade. Of course, any enclave is improved by the absence of cars. The street is closed for the annual Nowruz Festival and Perian Festival, which occurs each year on the Vernal Equinox.


LITTLE OSAKA

Although this route passes through Little Tokyo, the ride from Tehrangeles to Little Brazil comes so close to Little Osaka that it’s worth a detour. Little Osaka is smaller, funkier, and located far to the west of Little Tokyo — much like the cities that they’re nicknamed after. Little Osaka emerged as a Japanese district in the 1920s, back when Los Angeles was still home to the largest community of Japanese outside of Japan. Back then it was dominated by Japanese nurseries and a few still line Sawtelle, all of which are well worth patronizing. Today Little Osaka is home to shops like Giant Robot, its associated GR2 Gallery, and lots of good Japanese restaurants and businesses.


LITTLE BRAZIL

After leaving Little Osaka, hop back on the bicycle and head east to Sepulveda Boulevard and then turn south. Little Brazil. The first Brazilian restaurant closed many years ago and Little Brazil has never firmly established itself. There are scattered Brazilian businesses but if Little Brazil has a main street, it’s Venice Boulevard. Disembark there and walk east. The heart of the neighborhood is the Brazilian Mall, so-named around 2007 by Marcello Gomez and home to a handful of Brazilian businesses. I used to go to ZaBumBa not infrequently when I had friends in Santa Monica. They’ve all moved on, though, and that beloved restaurant and nightclub closed after owner Monica Burgos was murdered by her husband in 2010.


LITTLE ETHIOPIA

Ride east on Venice Boulevard. You’ll pass Culver City Station — another possible entry or exit for the traveler — and then head north on Fairfax Avenue. Signs for Little Ethiopia appear at Packard Street but ride on one more block to Whitworth Drive as that’s where the Ethiopian district actually begins. Little Ethiopia is really just a single block and, like Tehrangeles, its businesses are all flanked by alleys that would make it easy to transform into a thriving pedestrian promenade.

Los Angeles’s only African enclave began to emerge in the 1980s and was finally recognized by the City of Los Angeles in 2002. Fekere Gebre-Mariam opened Rosalind’s Restaurant back in 1988 and soon after, Ethiopian shops, a market, and a surprising amount of restaurants opened. The concentration of restaurants in such a small area is incredible and competition is no doubt fierce. I’ve eaten in most of them and never had a bad meal any — and some of my favorites have closed. It’s one of the most fragrant neighborhoods, too. Frankincense, myrrh, and coffee are all native to the Horn of Africa and the smell of all three fills the air where it usually mixes with music. Enkutatash, Ethiopia’s New Year, falls on 11 September most years and around that day, Fairfax usually hosts the Annual Little Ethiopia Cultural Street Festival.

After leaving Little Ethiopia, the traveler can either head east on San Vicente Boulevard — a wide street with a median that was formerly a train right-of-way — or take a slight detour up a quiet alley that runs parallel to it on the southern side. The alley ends at Hauser Boulevard, though, and at that point, one has to ride on San Vicente. At the intersection of San Vicente and Pico boulevards, head east up Pico.


OAXACATOWN

Oaxacatown is spread thinly across several neighborhoods and streets. The Latino Economic Empowerment Round Table proposed designating a stretch of Olympic Boulevard the “Oaxacan Corridor” in 2012… but back then, that same stretch was the exact same stretch recognized by the city as Koreatown. The roots of both are in the same place, the building that Hi Duk Lee had built for V.I.P. Palace (영빈광) in 1975 that became Guelagetza, in 1994 when Fernando Lopez and Maria Monterrubio opened their famed Oaxacan restaurant there. Today there are more Oaxacan businesses on Pico. If you’re up to it, disembark around West Boulevard and walk east to Western Avenue. Guelagetza is the only Oaxacan restaurant that I’ve eaten at and is not on this part of the stroll. Nieves La Pichita comes recommended from Eat the World Los Angeles, which you’re hopefully already following and supporting if you’re this far into a piece such as this one. You might At that point, hop back on your bike and head south.


LITTLE BELIZE

Little Belize, like Oaxacatown, is a thinly spread enclave without real borders that shifts with the openings and closings of restaurants. Substantial numbers of Belizeans began to settle in the area in the 1970s and as early as 1986, it was colloquially known as Little Belize. Today, Los Angeles is home to more Belizeans than any other city on Earth (including, in other words, Belize). Several Belizean businesses closed during the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s doubtful that many travelers will seek out the historic sites of now closed venues Belizean Fish Market, Nel and John’s Belizean, The Plum Tree, or Ella’s Belizean Restaurant — although all were on Western. You could get off at Sea Breeze Records and Tapes (3566 South Western Avenue) to mark the beginning of your stroll. After that, you’ll come to Joan & Sisters and Tracey’s — both highly rated by Eat the World Los Angeles. Whether walking or cycling, turn east on Vernon Avenue, pass Ras Bob & Buck’s One Love Gift Shop, and then head north on Vermont Avenue. Pelican is the last chance for Belizean and after that, the traveler should continue north on their bicycle.


EL SALVADOR COMMUNITY CORRIDOR

At West Adams Boulevard, one arrives at the southern end of El Salvador Community Corridor. By the 1990s, had nicknamed the heavily Salvadoran and Guatemalan area of Westlake and Pico-UnionLittle Central America.” In 2012, however, the city designated a stretch of Vermont between West Adams and 11th Street as the El Salvador Community Corridor. In May 2022, conservative Councilman Gil Cedillo (who’d previously driven Lincoln Heights‘s bustling Avenue 26 Night Market out of the neighborhood) cleared out more than fifty vendors of the El Salvador Corridor Street Vendor Market, so it’s hard to know what to expect although I have no doubt that there are still several Salvadoran restaurants in the neighborhood. At 11th Street, the traveler should back toward Pico and then head west. The traveler can take Vermont back but, since some people have a pathological aversion to “doubling back,” you could also walk a block west to New Hampshire Avenue before heading south.


GREEKTOWN

When cities officially recognize ethnic enclaves, in an effort to avoid triggering anyone, they usually assign them names that are both so inelegant and so bland that they are adopted by few and please none. Thus Little Seoul is referred to by Garden Grove officials as “The Korean Business District,” Little India is known to officials in Artesia as “The International and Cultural Shopping District,” Little Osaka was re-christened “Sawtelle Japantown,” and Little Saigon was nearly named “Asiatown.” No name is more inscrutable than the Byzantine-Latino Quarter, coined in 1997 to refer to a neighborhood that had for decades been referred to, without issue, as Greek Town. You probably know that Istanbul was Constantinople but before that, it was Byzantium… which was colonized by Greeks from Megara in the 7th century BCE. And “Latino Quarter,” one supposes, because Latinos are the majority in the neighborhood. Of course, Latinos are the majority population of nearly every ethnic enclave. All of this unnecessarily complicated administrative nonsense could, quite rightly, be described as, well, byzantine.

Greeks had colonized Pico Heights by the 1940s CE. There are few Greeks in the area today but several Greek institutions remain. St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral opened its doors in 1952. Sam Chrys opened C&K Importing Co. in 1948. Chrys’s son, Chrys Chrys, took over in 1968 and expanded the scope of the business, launching the celebrated Papa Cristo’s Greek Grill there in 1990. Most years, the three-day L.A. Greek Fest takes place there although the dates vary significantly.


KOREATOWN

Walk or hop on the bike for three blocks to head north along Irolo Street. The block of Olympic between Irolo and Normandie Avenue is the birthplace of modern Koreatown. It was not the first Koreatown in Los Angeles, though. Old Koreatown arose along Jefferson Boulevard in the 1930s and thrived there at least into the 1960s, when Francis Lewe opened Los Angeles’s first Korean restaurant, Korea House, there. Koreatown began to move when Hi Duk Lee opened V.I.P. Palace (영빈광) ten years later, in 1975. It was followed by V.I.P. Plaza, a two-story shopping center that opened across the street in 1979. Both buildings are recognizably Korean in design and Lee hoped to create a tourist-catering enclave along the lines of Chinatown. Three Koreatown signs were installed along Olympic in 1980. Koreatown direction signs were placed at exits along the Santa Monica Freeway in 1982. More often than not, the Korean businesses and buildings that came to Koreatown did not conform to Lee’s vision. Aside from the Hangul signage and occasional blue stile roofs, there is little in the built environment that overtly announces Koreatown’s Korean-ness. It is, however, distinguishable from most of its Los Angeles. It’s the city’s most populous neighborhood, its most densely populated, and consequently, its most vibrant. Ironically, it thus more closely resembles an actual Korean city than the Epcot Center-like version of a Korean enclave proposed by Lee… although noisy, grungy Koreatown reminds me more of Busan than it does sleek and spotless Seoul.

Koreatown is also a big neighborhood — roughly three square kilometers. It’s thus very difficult to get a sense of Koreatown on a single stroll any number of streets are worth checking out — and so I here present the traveler with two options. The first option is to walk west on Pico and then turn north on Western. This route, which moves along the neighborhood’s “official” southern border, takes one through the oldest part of Koreatown, past shopping centers and small businesses with their attendant surface parking lots until one arrives at Koreatown Galleria, a hangar-like mall built in 2001 and worth checking out. Malls like these might be dead to most of the world, but in Korean, Japanese, and Filipino communities, they’re still often vibrant spaces. Heading north on Western, the traveler arrives at another large Korean mall, Koreatown Plaza, built in 1987, and also worth a visit. Continuing north, it rejoins the other route at Wilshire and Western, in the shadow of Madang, Solair, and The Wiltern and Pellissier Building.

The other option is to head north on Irolo. It’s quieter, more residential, and a stretch of it is pleasantly lined with mature shade and oxygen-providing trees. On one side is Seoul International Park, which is dominated by a baseball diamond. On the other side are the Korean Pavilion and the Koreatown Senior & Community Center — some of the only recognizably Korean structures in the neighborhood that aren’t temples. As the traveler approaches Wilshire Boulevard, the buildings grow taller. Head west down Wilshire Boulevard, the busiest street in Koreatown, and the main thoroughfare of what used to be better known as the Wilshire Center neighborhood and what is the “main street” of the city. There’s a nice collection of architecture along this stretch representing a variety of styles including Art Deco, Brutalist, Byzantine Revival, Contemporary, Corporate International, Modern, New Formalist, Romanesque Revival, and others.


LITTLE BANGLADESH

3rd Street (Little Bangladesh)

From Wilshire/Western Station, walk north to 3rd Street and head east. This is Little Bangladesh. Ironically, it was its official recognition of Little Bangladesh in 2010 that lead the city to determine Koreatown’s borders. There were some in the Korean community who opposed the recognition of Little Bangladesh and at least one prominent voice who went so far, incredulously, to suggest that 3rd — and thus not 6th, Wilshire, Western, Olympic, or Vermont — was the “heart of Koreatown.” To be sure, there are probably as many Korean businesses on this stretch of 3rd but, at the same time, there is no street in which Bangladeshis are more visible… and who says that there can’t be an enclave inside of an enclave — especially in onion-skinned Los Angeles? Although it seems premature to me and there’s no obvious location, there are those in Koreantown, too, who speak of Mongolia Town. Many of Los Angeles’s many Mongolianschoose to live in Koreatown so it’s probably just a matter of time before I have to adjust this walking and cycling tour and add Mongolia Town to the map. And then, just as likely, twenty years later the city will officially recognize it as the Historic Midtown Khanate, or something equally absurd.

Back to Little Bangladesh, though, for the time being. There are several Bangladeshi (and, seemingly, Indian Bengali) restaurants, liquor stores, markets, and other amenities here. If you come when the nearby elementary school is emptying out, you will no doubt see many mothers in colorful, ornate sarees escorting their children down the street. If you visit on 26 and 27 March, you will likely encounter the annual Celebration of Bangladesh Independence Day.

At Vermont Avenue, hop back on the bike. There are a few more Bangladeshi-oriented institutions — the Islamic Center of Southern California to the south and Aladdin Sweets & Market to the north. Unless you want to visit either, you’ll probably want to hop on your bicycle and head north up Vermont and take a right on 1st Street. Do a little zig-zag up Commonwealth, Court, and Robinson streets to Temple Street — if only to see one of Los Angeles’s only brick streets.


FILIPINOTOWN

Filipinotown has an eastern gateway in the form of a public art piece called Talang Gabay: Our Guiding Star, designed by Eliseo Art Silva and Celestino Geronimo Jr. It has no western gateway, and determining where Filipinotown’s western edge begins is less obvious. The block of Temple Street between Robinson and Dillon streets, though, is home to Search to Involve Pilipino Americans — a non-profit that provides business assistance and as good an indicator as any that you’re now ready to stroll through the neighborhood. Some of the crosswalks are decorated with designs inspired by traditional Filipino patterns. If you’re lucky, you might glimpse the 1944 Sarao Motors jeepney that provides tours of the neighborhood. Heading east, the traveler will pass other non-profits and the occasional apartment with a Filipino named — none of which likely warrant a stop for an explorer although they might if they happen to be hosting an artistic event such as an art show or poetry reading. There are also, though, Filipino restaurants, bakeries, and cafes at which one might wish to stop before hopping back on the bike at Glendale Boulevard and heading southeast. On your right, you’ll pass Larry Itliong Village, an affordable housing unit named after the Filipino civil rights figure. There are various festivals in the neighborhood including the Historic Filipinotown Larry Itliong Day Parade & Festival and Historic Filipinotown Festival and 5k Run.


LITTLE TOKYO & BRONZEVILLE

Bear left and head east down 1st Street. Hop off your bike at Los Angeles Street to stroll through Little Tokyo, the US’s first Japanese, having arisen there in the 1890s. Before Americans of Japanese ethnicity were incarcerated in concentration camps during World War II, many lived in an historically much larger Little Tokyo. During the war, black Angelenos recruited to work in the war industry settled in the newly emptied homes of evicted Japanese and Little Tokyo became Bronzeville — a thriving neighborhood that was full of black music venues and other black businesses. When the Japanese returned, most of Bronzeville’s residents were evicted by landlords who preferred to rent to Japanese tenants, resulting in yet another deliberate mass displacement of people. Bronzeville vanished but there are still buildings along the route that were home to Bronzeville businesses like the Indigo Breakfast Club (228 E. 1st St.), the Finale Club (230 1/2 E. 1st St.), the Theatre Arts Building (313 E. 1st St.), the Bronzeville Arcade (316 E. 1st St.), and Baby House Cleaners (341 E. 1st St.). Maybe the city should, I don’t know, honor them with some sort of signage or something.

The Civic Center expanded into Little Tokyo in the 1950s, knocking down businesses and homes that were replaced with large municipal buildings and their attendant surface parking lots. a stretch of older buildings was spared from redevelopment and the sidewalks in front of them indicate the names of their historic tenants. turn south at the iconic, towering yagura and stroll through the blissfully car-free Japanese Village Plaza, created in 1978. All of Little Tokyo is charming, so I have designed a winding path in order to take in sites like Little Tokyo Towers, Higashi Honganji, Zensushi Soto, St. Francis Xavier Church, and Hompa Hongwanji. Of course, there are many Japanese establishments at which to dine, drink, or pick up souvenirs along the way. Each of the temples celebrated O-Bon, which is a fun time to be in little Tokyo — as is during the Annual Nisei Week Festival & the Grand Parade, all of which usually take place around August.


FRENCHTOWN & YAANGNA

Historically, the area north of Little Tokyo and what’s now the Arts District was Frenchtown, which had arisen by the 1850s. Almost nothing of it remains today — demolished to create a freeway and flattened in favor of parking lots in which to store empty automobiles. Louis Bauchet, a solder from France who settled there in 1827, has his name preserved in Bauchet Street. Vignes Street is named after vintner Jean-Louis Vignes who arrived in Los Angeles in 1831 and planted a vineyard in the area. Before too long, Los Angeles Angeles was the wine capital of the US. Before the Anglo influx in the 1870s, French was the second-most spoken language in Los Angeles after Spanish, and three of the city’s early mayors were French speakers. Although they departed the neighborhood decades ago, to still extant French restaurants were founded in Frenchtown, Taix (at 321 Commercial Street) and Philippe (at 300 Alameda).

Aliso Tree, Los Angeles (photographed in 1870)

Of course, centuries before the French or Spanish lived there, this was home to a band of Tongva, the Yangnavit. Marking the center of their village, Yaangna, was a large tree identified in most accounts as a sycamore. It was referred to as “sha’var” by the Yangnavit. The Spanish referred to it as “el aliso,” though, not “el sicomoro,” and when Vignes planted his vineyards, he called his winery El Aliso. Vignes vineyard was later the site of the Philadelphia Brewery, which opened there in 1875. In 1891, during an expansion of the brewery, the sacred tree was felled for lumber. In 2019, the city memorialized the site in its favorite and least useful way — with a plaque. Usually, when I see a memorial plaque, I wish that it was a memorial bench, drinking fountain, public restroom, tree, or something else that actually has a practical benefit. Here, though, it seems to me — a grove of sycamores might be nice — even in the shadow of freeway off-ramps (which I’d be OK with demolishing in the name of progress).


SONORATOWN

NMAH Archives Center Victor A. Blenkle Postcard Collection 0200 Series ? Box 1 Folder California – Los Angeles “Typical of Early Los Angeles–Olvera Street, Los Angeles, California.” Picture postcard depicting Los Angeles street scene.

Leave behind the ghosts of Yaangna and Frenchtown by walking west on Commercial Street to Los Angeles Street and turn north. This is “El Pueblo” — short for El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula, established here in 1781 by the Spanish to take advantage of a freshwater source (the Los Angeles River), a labor force (the Yangnavit), and located sufficiently inland to make it impervious to pirate attacks. By 1871, it was commonly known as Sonoratown (or Sonora Town). The name mostly faded from use by the 1940s, as development pushed out most inhabitants. Stroll up Olvera Street, a street given a makeover by Oakland-born Anglo Christine Sterling in 1930. Say what you will about her exoticism and Romanticism but when she was farsighted enough to know that abolishing cars from the street, which the city did in 1929, was key to making it an appealing destination. Nearly a century later, this Anglo vision of a quaint Mexican village actually feels not entirely unlike a quaint Mexican village. On any given day, you’re likely to hear Mexican Spanish being spoken at least as much as American English. There are many festivals celebrated in the neighborhood — usually those celebrated by most Mexicans — although the Easter Blessing of the Animals is especially popular, it seems.


CHINATOWN & LITTLE ITALY

Los Angeles’s original Chinatown was located east of Sonoratown. It was demolished, however, to make way for the construction of Union Station and the Hollywood Freeway. After her makeover of Olvera Street, Christine Sterling opened China City on 6 June 1938. Herbert Lapham and Peter Soo Hoo‘s New Chinatown development, centered around Chinatown Central Plaza, opened nearby on 25 June 1938. Both were located in what until then had been Little Italy. China City didn’t last nearly as long as Olvera Street. After a fire broke out on 20 February 1939, most of China City’s vendors relocated to New Chinatown. An arson fire completely destroyed China City in 1949 and the site was razed in 1955. Central Plaza, largely built with leftover bits of Hollywood props and film sets from 1937’s The Good Earth, looks much the same today as it did then — to the apparent bewilderment of some Chinese tourists. A winding path through Chinatown that incorporates Central Plaza and, across the street, Chungking Road, is a good way to see a lot of Chinatown. Chinatown hosts a lot of events, including Chinatown Summer Nights, Lunar New Year, and the L.A. Chinatown Firecracker Run.

St. Peter’s and the Italian Hall

One newer Chinese-inspired building, Blossom Plaza, was built on the site of one of the last vestiges of Little Italy, Little Joe’s Italian American Restaurant, which opened in 1928 and held on until December 1998, when brothers Bob and Steve Nuccio retired. It was demolished in 2013. During the demolition, a section of the Zanja Madre was uncovered — the city’s original water main. Heading north on Broadway, the traveler will pass St. Peter’s Italian Catholic Church, Casa Italiana, and a piece of public art, Alberto Biasi‘s The Immigrants, created in 1970. There are a few other Italian institutions just a bit further afield: the Italian Hall in the Pueblo, Eastside Italian Market Deli in Victor Heights, and Lanza Brothers’ Market and San Antonio Winery, both in Lincoln Heights.


This is the end of the Grand Tour. If you began at Sunset/Vermont Station, you can ride over to Chinatown Station or Lincoln/Cypress Station and then head back to Union Station to board the B Line back to your starting point. If, like me, you live in Silver Lake, the nicest way to get home from here is a ride along the scenic Glendale Narrows section of the Los Angeles River. Along the way, you’ll pass several good options for food and drink, including Spoke Cafe, La Colombe, Frogtown Brewery, and Salazar. It also gives you the chance to cycle through a row of murals — sadly badly damaged by graffiti and even more damaging graffiti cover-ups. They depict Dutch row houses. As far as I know, Elysian Valley was never a Dutch enclave but I could be wrong. Van de Kamp Bakery was right across the bridge and the neighborhoods of Lincoln Heights, Cypress Park, Glassell Park, and Elysian Valley were all home to numerous bakeries. For now, though, the origins of this mural elude me. Maybe I’ll organize a tour of the vestiges and ruins of ethnic enclaves in the future.


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Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft ContemporaryForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery.
Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesVICEHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture.
Brightwell has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA?, at Emerson Collegeand the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on AmebaDuolingoFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubithe StoryGraphand Twitter.

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