By Nancy J. Farrier
Tourists who visit Los Angeles enjoy going to Olvera Street, a short block full of touristy shops and
In 1818, Don Francisco Jose Avila, a ranchero and alcalde, or mayor, of Los Angeles, began to build a house in town. Many of the rancheros lived outside the town, but would keep homes closer to town to entertain friends and family or for when they attended church.
Don Avila lived in the house with his wife, Encarnacion, and his two daughters. The original home was much more spacious than the restored house on Olvera Street today. Don Avila’s house, made of sun-baked adobe bricks, had walls 2 ½ to 3 feet thick. The ceilings were 15 feet high, supported by cottonwood beams. They used natural tar from the Brea tar pits, mixed with rocks and horsehair, to coat and seal the roof. Behind the home they had a vineyard, one of many in the area.
In 1832, Don Avila died. He had been 50 when he married 15-year-old Encarnacion. She and her two daughters continued to live in the Avila house. However, during the Mexican-American war, Robert “Fighting Bob” Stockton, a U.S. Navy Commander, commandeered the Avila House for a military headquarters. The occupation was shortlived. After Encarnacion’s death, her daughters continued to reside in the house until 1868.
Over the next few decades, the Avila house was rented out, made into a restaurant and became a rooming house for transients. I found conflicting accounts about the date when the Avila House was condemned and slated to be torn down, 1926, 1928, or 1932. The house had been allowed to decline to the point where it wasn’t habitable.
Today the Avila House is a museum, decorated as the home would have been in 1840. The only original piece of furniture is a black, lacquered table, thought to be a gift to Francisco when he married Encarnacion.
Many visiting dignitaries, movie stars and celebrities have visited the Avila House. Senator John Kennedy is reported to have stepped on the horseshoe at the entryway between the chapel and the kitchen and said, “I wish to be President.” Other famous people have been entertained there in years past.
From what I read the Avila house is the oldest existing home in Los Angeles. If you would be interested in reading a more in-depth article, here is the link: The Avila Adobe
Nancy J Farrier is an award winning author who lives in Southern California in the Mojave Desert. She loves the Southwest and interesting historical past. Nancy and her husband have five children. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats, and spend time with her family. Nancy is represented by Karen Ball of The Steve Laube Literary Agency. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website: nancyjfarrier.com.