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Artist's Notebook -- Olvera Street

August 22, 2009 | 12:00 am


Aug. 8, 2009, Olvera Street, Marion Eisenmann

Olvera Street by Marion Eisenmann, Aug. 8, 2009

To visit the old Plaza is to stand at the crossroads of the city's past and present -- and maybe even its future. I wonder what the preservationists who envisioned "a Mexican street of yesterday in a city of today" -- like a Colonial Williamsburg with sombreros and castanets -- would think of the crowded sidewalks and live performances with calls of "Viva Mexico!"

Talking about Olvera Street is a bit like the old fable of the blind men describing the elephant. To some, it may be the parade of proud parents with their beautifully dressed little girls in their christening outfits headed for church, or perhaps it's the teenagers, in elegant quinceanera outfits, posing for pictures. Maybe it's one of the restaurants, the life-size burro on wheels used in the souvenir photos, people lounging around the bandstand listening to live music, the ringing bells of the pushcart vendors or the booths selling masks, marionettes and miniature guitars. I even found a Frida Kahlo mesh shopping bag for sale at one stall.

In writing about the 1920s preservation campaign, led by Christine Sterling, The Times often underscored the contrast between humble, old Olvera Street, "a highway of memories," and the nearby, modern City Hall, dedicated in 1928 and topped by the Lindbergh Beacon.

Now, we stand about as far in history from the opening of City Hall as its construction workers did from the time when the American Army occupied the Avila Adobe in 1847. It's an interesting point of departure for a long conversation -- for another time, although I wonder what they'll say about Disney Hall in 80 years. 

Marion says: What I liked about drawing this place and spending time there are my personal memories connected with Hispanic culture. Some couples, the ladies in colorful and layered dresses, danced quebrada.

People were very friendly and showed interest in what I was doing and how I was doing it, a few homeless people stopped by too, not to leave out the security, who moved out from their shady spots to inquire what I was sketching and what for. I normally don't choose a position in the full sunlight, but I thought where I settled was just right. I put on a spf 50.

Note: In case you just tuned in, Marion and I are visiting local landmarks in a project inspired by what Charles Owens and Joe Seewerker did in Nuestro Pueblo. [By the way,  the Plaza was one of their favorite subjects and they did several entries on various buildings]. Check back next week for another page from Marion's notebook. In the meantime, you can contact Marion here.



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