Thursday, February 16, 2012

Old Los Angeles

I became a member of Los Angeles Conservancy last November when I registered for my Art Deco walking tour.  This Sunday, the Conservancy offered a complimentary tour of Union Station to welcome new members, and I used the opportunity for another exploration of downtown L.A.  Union Station is situated on Alameda Street near El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Park (the district considered to be the birthplace of L.A.), so I decided to focus on acquainting myself with this particular area.
I began the day with the Union Station tour which began at 10:00am.  Our appointed guide is a well-informed gentleman who spoke in great depth about Union Station's history as well as its architectural significance.
The Conservancy website describes the tour as an examination of the "architecture, art, culture, and social history...[of] one of the great landmarks of Los Angeles."  The guide covered all of these aspects of the terminal, and it was interesting to learn about Union Station's context within the timeline of L.A. and its impact in the city's growth as a major metropolitan and cultural hub.
Fred Harvey Room
our tour guide
The tour's duration was an hour and a half.  When it ended, I turned my thoughts to lunch and headed up Alameda Street toward Philippe the Original restaurant where I planned to get a french dip sandwich.  I had never been to Philippe's so I was looking forward to their signature roast beef sammy dipped in gravy.  The eatery is also only a few blocks from Union Station so it was a super convenient choice as well.
When I arrived at Philippe's, it was peak lunch period, so the queues were like this:
The ordering process at Philippe's is also very inefficient since it's not set up in a single queue system.  As such, it's a very unpredictable and potentially frustrating wait if one gets stuck in a queue with a slow server and/or an indecisive customer.  After a half hour wait, I finally had my order and hunted down an empty seat at one of the cafeteria-style tables.
double-dipped beef, cole slaw, potato salad, and a pickle
My lunch was good, though anticlimactic.  Based on all the hype I'd heard over the years, I'd expected the sandwich to be mind-blowingly fantastic.  It was not.  It was tasty but not exceptional.  The sides were pretty good, particularly the potato salad.  Overall, I rate my meal 7 stars out of 10.  Still, despite the less than stellar meal, I'm glad that I finally got to try Philippe's since it seems a culinary rite of passage for Angelenos.

After lunch, I walked back down Alameda to famous Olvera Street which is located between Union Station and Philippe's.  Olvera Street is short and bustling, very mired in the tourist trade with stalls lining the entire length of the street and selling food or cheap souvenirs to visitors.
Olvera Street
About midway down Olvera, I found the Avila Adobe house, reportedly the oldest standing house in L.A.  It's free admission to the public and was a welcome interlude to the kitsch of the marketplace.  Avila Adobe is very tiny so I was able to view the entire house in a few minutes.
Avila Adobe courtyard
I continued to the end of Olvera Street to the Plaza (the center of El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Park) where there was a festival of sorts going on.  A group of dancers in beautiful costumes were dancing to a rhythmic drum beat.
performance in Plaza park
I watched the dancing for a while and then made my way over to Old Plaza Firehouse, the oldest firehouse in Los Angeles, which faces the Plaza.  The firehouse is likewise small, and my time inside was brief.
Old Plaza Firehouse
To the Batpole!
Upon emerging from the fire station, I spotted a sign for the Chinese-American Museum, which turned out to be just around the corner from the Plaza.  I decided to check it out and viewed an interesting exhibition called Breaking Ground: Chinese American Architects in Los Angeles (1945-1980) which featured several architects who contributed some recognizable architectural L.A. landmarks.  Photography wasn't allowed in the museum so I have no photos to post.

When I left the Chinese-American museum, I walked back toward Plaza park.  As I did so, I heard flamenco music which I followed until I found myself at La Plaza de Cultura Y Artes, a cultural center consisting of a museum housed in a three-storey building on Main Street and a 30,000 square feet garden.  Located adjacent to Plaza park, the mission statement of La Plaza de Cultura Y Artes is to "celebrate and cultivate an appreciation for the enduring and evolving influence of Mexican and Mexican-American culture."
La Plaza de Cultura Y Artes
On this Sunday, there was an event going on with live musicians and dancers performing in the garden as well as educational workshops and free entry into the museum.
performers at La Plaza de Cultura Y Artes
I took advantage of the latter and went on a self-guided tour of the museum's inaugural exhibit called LA Starts Here!, an engaging, interactive experience that examines and celebrates Mexican and Mexican-American history and identity in L.A.
My visit to the Mexican-American museum capped my day's exploration.  It was a long but very thorough and satisfying day during which I was able to explore about a square mile of downtown L.A. along and around Alameda Street.  In conclusion, I never thought of downtown L.A. as a walkable district, but this excursion (along with my first one) is convincing me otherwise, much to my excitement.  I can't wait for my next downtown adventure!


  1. Union Station looks cleaner on the inside than I would have thought.

    I still am wondering why I think it's pronounced Fil-ee-pay's... but that is how my dad pronounced it. He didn't speak French or really any romance language, but I guess someone else told him to say it that way. Anyway I am going there in May and totally looking forward to my sandwich which I will get single-dipped.

  2. Yeah, Union Station has cleaned up A LOT and is quite nice now. The vague memories of my few previous visits had been of scuzzy halls with unsavory people, much like our experience in Spain metro stations.

    So are you choosing to continue to mispronounce Philippe's?