Monday, November 10, 2014

Will Development Spoil Mariachi Plaza?

Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights is where you go if you are a musician, or looking to hire a musician.  

I saw it for the first time in 2006, on a rainy day, while looking for a place to walk my dogs, and hoping the rain would go away.  The Metro Gold Line was under construction, and the fences around the construction were painted with murals.  

I took one picture from the kiosk looking down first street, and two more of the murals on the businesses around the plaza.

I've been catching up on the history of the place.  It had been a gathering place for mariachis and people looking to hire mariachis for parties for a long time, beginning in the thirties , forties or fifties.  You know, the kind of place that had just always been there.  It was the  parking lot of Olympic Donuts.   

In around 1983, the Cultural Affairs Department had started thinking about a more official sort of gathering place.  Starting in 1990, annual mariachi festivals have been held there in honor of the feast of St. Cecelia, patron saint of musicians.  Her day is November 22.   On that occasion, in 1993, there was a groundbreaking ceremony for the Mariachi Plaza, with Mayor Richard Riordan, Councilmen Richard Alatorre and Joel Wachs, and Adolfo V. Nodal of the Cultural Affairs Department.  It was set to be completed in June, 1994, and do to include a fountain, bandstand and antique street lights.  Unfortunately, it had become a center for illegal drug sales as well as for hiring musicians.   One local resident was quoted in the Times"We don't need a plaza," said Robert Chavez, who has lived at the corner for 11 years and can see the mariachis from his front porch. "We need more police." 

In 1994, the Times stated that little had changed.  Then they quoted Anita Castellanos, head of the Mariachi Plaza Committee: "It's becoming more and more a welcoming area,We got rid of the drug dealers and the winos hanging out, and the market is now pulling the women and kids across the plaza. They never went there before."  She and other merchants helped close down a bar there and asked students from the Academia de Arte Yepes, a free youth art academy in Boyle Heights, to paint the new murals on surrounding property.  Even though the kiosk had not been built, things were already changing.

In 1996, the donut store was still there, and musicians celebrated St. Cecilia day.  The 24th Mariachi Festival will be held Nov. 23, 9:30AM-7:00PM

Santa Cecilia 
restaurant in this  picture has been here for 19 years.  The owner, Armando Salazar, fears displacement of the development takes place.  
The gazebo, or kiosk was built in 1998. It was designed by Mexican sculptor Pablo Salas. The stone was quarried in Jalisco and cut there, then shipped to Los Angeles. 

See how the kiosk looks in sunshine, with the restored hotel in the background.  The hotel and the Gold Line station are stories I will tell in future installments.  

These children were playing there on Saturday.

Libros Schmibros moved here from its previous location at 1st. and Cummings in 2012.

What is the future for Mariachi Plaza?  This rendering shows a slicker and duller place.

Do architectural renderings make places look more slick and boring than they actually turn out to be?  When I saw this on streetsblog, I was alarmed, because Mariachi Plaza is a lovely place, just as it is.

These plans include two new commercial buildings and a six story parking structure.  The buildings with the restaurants and bookstore will be sacrificed, with their beautiful murals, and there will be less space for the mariachis and other folks.  If you have free time on Thursday, November 13 at 9AM, you can put your two cents in at a Metro Board of Directors Meeting at One Gateway Plaza.

Update Jan. 22, 2015 Residents of Boyle Heights expressed their unhappiness about the plan at a community meeting.  Read about it in the L.A. Times. and another time here.

The lot on the other side of the intersection is still under debate.  Read about it in L.A. Streetsblog.


  1. I eagerly await the story of the hotel! I was wondering what that marvelous building was.

    The gazebo is lovely; I'm glad they actually used a Latino architect. And I love the various murals.

    1. The short version is that the hotel was built in 1889. Immigrant musicians lived there many years. Of course it got rundown, as buildings do. It got a beautiful restoration job, so the preservationists were happy. But of course the rents went up. The people who used to live there can't afford it anymore. Boyle Heights is one of the most interesting neighborhoods in town, with plenty of history that I don't know yet.