The "old" downtown Los Angeles beats the new one by a country mile
There’s a lot of talk in p.r. circles about the new, downtown Los Angeles.
Yeah, it’s come a long way. But it still ain’t anything to write home about.
The Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Hall is nice, but it’s way up in the north part of downtown surrounded by government buildings. The Staples Center is nice and the convention center is gleaming, sure. And the new L.A. Live complex has swanky hotels and fancy restaurants. But it’s a commercial development that could be in Detroit or Phoenix. There’s no there there; no street form like Roncesvalles in Toronto or SoHo in New York.
I don’t quite get it, to be honest.But the old downtown L.A., thankfully, is still around. Gritty? You bet? Down on its heels in part? Sure. But there’s tons to see in a couple hours, which is what I had on Sunday.
I started off with lunch at old favourite, Philippe’s Original – home of the French-dip sandwich. Awesome roast beef and other sandwiches in a place that invented the phrase “time has stood still.” They still have pickled eggs and 45 cent cups of coffee, not to mention awesome sandwiches.
It’s on Alameda, maybe two blocks north of Union Station; which is a beauty and definitely worth checking out. Across the street is Olvera Street and the old Los Angeles mission area (see photo above), which I remembered from the 1970s as being somewhat tacky. Not true. At least not on Sunday, when I thought it was outstanding.
It’s part of the old mission lands from when Los Angeles was founded, and there’s a ton of history, not to mention gracious squares and small parks with overflowing pink bougainvillea and grizzled Mexican-American men in cowboy hats. They were celebrating a Mexican Heritage day on Sunday, as well as the 82nd anniversary of Olvera Street, so there were mariachi bands playing gaily in the April sun and kids and parents and balloons and all sorts of fun.
Down Olvera, there are tons of shops offering luggage, Mexican wrestling masks, colourful red, green and yellow and black blankets, colourful, miniature guitars ($9.99 with your name inscribed), plus wallets and t-shirts and more. There are several small, family-run places to munch on tacos or burritos, of course. And the bands were out in force in their shiny uniforms, pumping out tunes on guitars and trumpets and violins as folks sauntered past.
Also on the list of things to see downtown is Angels Flight, a short funicular ride (see photo) that goes up Bunker Hill? It’s only a few seconds on an old-time tram, but it’s also only 50 cents, so it’s a definite must-do.
Across the street from the bottom part of Angels Flight is the Grand Central Market. It’s a fun, vibrant spot where they have Chinese and Mexican restaurants, a “grain” shop that sells everything from garlic powder to sasparilla to other, exotic stuff you’ve never heard of, plus tons of local produce; including a place where two pounds of tiny, perfect limes sells for a measly buck.