Mariachi Plaza

Mariachi Plaza — Los Angeles Explorers Guild

Mariachi Plaza

In Boyle Heights you can see a spectacular stone kiosco, hand-carved by a master sculptor from Guadalajara, honoring the spirit and music of mariachi.

While Mariachi Plaza in general refers to a small urban plaza in Boyle Heights where mariachis congregate, the dominating feature is a 40-foot tall open air stage with — known as a kiosco in Spanish — that was a gift from the state of Jalisco, Mexico.

The Making of Mariachi Plaza

Since the 1930s this vaguely triangular corner of Boyle Heights has been a gathering place for mariachis, decked out in their trajes de charro, hoping to get work playing their much-loved music at funerals, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, and quinceaneras. At some point in the 1980s, the parking lot for Olympic Donuts was commonly known, at least semi-officially, as Mariachi Plaza.

Mariachi Plaza Kiosco — Los Angeles Explorers Guild
The Mariachi Plaza kiosco. Photo from the author’s collection.

But the area wasn’t the most appealing or the safest corner of Los Angeles. It was rough-and-tumble part of town known for crime and a place to score drugs. The idea to transform the once dingy intersection across from the historic Boyle Hotel into a plaza started in the 1980s. And like all city projects, it took time to gather support and funding.

Los Angeles city officials reached an agreement with like-minded city officials in Jalisco, the Mexican state that’s considered to be the birhtplace of mariachi music. And somehow, the officials in Jalsico agreed to design and build an authentic kiosco as a gift to the mariachis of Los Angeles — an agreement that was kept for decades and after a few political turnovers on both sides.

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Initially announced at a groundbreaking ceremony in November 1993, the redesigned Mariachi Plaza was slated to open in June 1994. But then the allure of progress put the development of the plaza on hold “for two years” when a Metro Red Line extension to Boyle Heights was proposed in early 1994.

The idea was that this Metro stop would allow easy access for people to visit the plaza to see, listen to, and hire the mariachis. And the city wanted to build the Metro station before they further developed the plaza. But after the plan for the Red Line extension fell through (though the Gold Line Extension eventually opened in 2009), the city decided to forge ahead with the initial plans for Mariachi Plaza anyway.

Mariachi Plaza Gold (L) Line — Los Angeles Explorers Guild
15 years after the Red Line extension was abandoned, the Gold Line (now the L Line) Mariachi Plaza Station opened. Photo from the author’s collection.

Mariachi Plaza Kiosco

If you read the plaque attached to the side of the kiosco, you’ll see a lot of names. Many of these are politicians, banks, city agencies, corporations, and philanthropists. But at the very bottom, almost as a footnote, there’s a line that reads: “Stonework designed, hand-carved, and installed by Juan Pablo Salas Renovato.”

Mariachi Plaza Plaque — Los Angeles Explorers Guild
The plaque attached to the Mariachi Plaza kiosco. Note Renovato’s name at the bottom. Photo from the author’s collection.

Renovato, all but unknown in the United States, was a renowned Mexican sculptor from Guadalajara (he died in 2008).

Let’s pause for a moment and consider that this entire 40-foot tall building was hand-carved by one man.

Without the contribution of Señor Renovato, easily the most important name on this long roster of contributors, there would be no Mariachi Plaza kiosco.

The building is made of cantera, a lightweight volcanic stone quarried from the Santa Lucia Mountains in Jalisco. It’s been used for centuries in Mexico to build everything from cathedrals to shopping malls. The Toltec people even used it to build their famous pyramids.

It took Renovato three months to sculpt the building in Guadalajara. Then the completed blocks were loaded onto trucks and driven some 1300 miles north to Los Angeles. There, Renovato and his crew — artisans from both Jalisco and Los Angeles — assembled the structure in five months, finishing just in time for the dedication ceremony on November 22, 1998.

Mariachi Plaza and Santa Cecilia

Santa Cecilia is the Catholic patron saint of music and — by extension — mariachis. She’s a very important figure in the mariachi culture, and every year on her feast day — November 22 — Mariachi Plaza is jammed with mariachis honoring Santa Cecilia with song.

Mariachi Plaza Santa Cecilia — Los Angeles Explorers Guild
On the top of the dome, a small statue depicting Santa Cecilia (also hand-carved by Renovato) looks out over the plaza. Photo from the author’s collection.

So it was quite fitting that Mariachi Square was completed right before November 22, 1998 so the kiosco and the entire Mariachi Plaza could be dedicated during the feast of Santa Cecilia.

It’s been a lasting symbol of the mariachi spirit and community ever since (even though the structure’s acoustics aren’t that great). And it’s still the best place to visit if you need to hire a band of mariachis.

Mariachi Plaza

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Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


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