By John D. Trausch
Anyone who says Los Angeles has no history hasn’t been to the Avila Adobe. Built in 1818 by L.A.‘s Mayor, Don Francisco Avila, the Avila Adobe is the oldest existing house in Los Angeles.
Commandeered by the U.S. Navy during the Mexican-American War in 1847, the house today is a museum preserved to look as it did in the 1840s. Only one piece of original furniture still exists, a black lacquered table. It is believed to have been a wedding gift in 1822 to the 50-year-old mayor and his 15-year-old bride, who used it as a sewing table.
Succeeding generations and decades saw the adobe abode fall into ill-repair, as it passed through the family, serving as a boarding house, an Italian restaurant, and a hotel, maintenance deferred. In 1926, the city condemned the house, ticketing it for demolition to make way for a gas station that serviced all those horseless carriages that suddenly were populating Los Angeles’ roads. In stepped Olvera Street founder Christine Sterling, the socialite and visionary who created the Mexican marketplace from the ashes with a little help from her powerful allies to save it from the wrecker’s ball with a massive publicity campaign.
U.S. Senator John. F. Kennedy visited the Avila Adobe House during his 1960 campaign for president. During this historic visit, the future president had his first Mexican lunch and even took a short nap on a couch in the old adobe. Kennedy was attending the Democratic Convention in the brand-new Los Angeles Sports Arena. He failed to win the California vote; that went to native son Richard Milhouse Nixon, but he did capture a majority of the electoral votes to become U.S. President from 1961-1963.
Christine Sterling had her offices at the Adobe House with General Manager Mario Valadez and his assistant Tony Sousa. Christine also had a chapel built by the entrance to the house on the right. Humberto Tapia, Valadez’s nephew, was married in the chapel. Following the Sylmar Earthquake in 1971, blacksmith Cruz Ledesma moved in to help with repairs.
Today, the Avila Adobe is open to the public as a museum and is furnished as it might have appeared in the late 1840s. It is open from 9 am to 4 pm daily.
The Avila Adobe House
Mario Valadez, General Manager of Olvera Street, who worked with Christine Sterling, with his lovely wife
Belle Valadez, at the L.A. City's birthday.