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L.A.'s Olvera Street recognized as a top 'Great Street' in America

L.A.'s Olvera Street recognized as a top 'Great Street' in America
Visitors stroll along Olvera Street, part of downtown Los Angeles' El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Downtown's historic Olvera Street, one of the oldest streets in Los Angeles, was named this week as one of the country's top five "Great Streets" by the American Planning Assn.

The brick pedestrian street "is a place where visitors can get a taste of Mexican culture and a sense of the history that still stands preserved in the buildlings and plazas that surround the street," the association said in its designation.

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The nonprofit urban planning group, in naming its annual Great Places in America designees, said it looked for outstanding architectural features, accessibility, functionality and community involvement.

The organization praised Los Angeles for using zoning "as a tool to not only preserve the uniqueness of Olvera Street, but also bolster its economic development." The street is part of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument, which is run by the city, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Olvera Street, in the area where the city was born as a Spanish pueblo in 1781, is home to dozens of craft shops, restaurants and businesses. When Los Angeles became part of Mexico in 1821, the street was at the "heart of Mexican farming and community life in the area," the American Planning Assn. said. In 1848, Mexico ceded California to the United States, and in 1877, the street was named Olvera Street, after Agustin Olvera, the county's first Superior Court judge, who fought against the Americans in the Mexican-American war.

As Los Angeles rapidly expanded near the beginning of the 20th century, Olvera Street and its surrounding area became neglected, crime-ridden and dirty. By 1930, because of the efforts of Christine Sterling (known as the "Mother of Olvera Street"), the street had been renovated and reopened as a tourist attraction reflecting the city's Mexican history.

The planning association said there is "a striking contrast between Olvera's tight quarters in the sprawling context of what has now become the second-largest city in the U.S."

The other Great Streets for 2015 are Third Street in McMinnville, Ore.; Fifth Street in Dayton, Ohio; Laura Street in Jacksonville, Fla.; and Lexington Avenue in Asheville, N.C.

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