A Walk Down Ord Street

Ord Street — Los Angeles Explorers Guild

A Walk Down Ord Street

Ord Street is a relatively short street in the heart of Chinatown, but it’s legacy reaches back to the pueblo’s first move toward commercialization.

Ord Street

Ord Street runs in a northwest-southeast line along the western edge of Chinatown. It’s just 1500 feet long, but it has a long history in the development of commerce in Downtown Los Angeles. Today it features a combination of both legacy and emerging businesses, as well as more than its fair share of empty storefronts.

What’s in a Name: Ord Street

Ord Street is named for Edward Otho Cresap Ord, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army who was hired by the Los Angeles City Council to produce the very first map of Los Angeles in July 1849. He received this appointment because he had just surveyed the city of Sacramento.

Ord’s map, commonly known as the Ord Survey Map even on assessor’s maps today, established the streets of the city — some of which still retain the names Ord gave them. These roads, which have been known by these names going on 173 years now, include Spring, Olive, Hill, Hope, Flower and College. Ord’s map even covers the current-day Ord Street, but he didn’t name it after himself. On his map it’s displayed as “Calle Alta/High St.” Ord’s survey also identifies the public lots in five or so blocks north, east, and west of the Pueblo and as far south as the Los Angeles River.

A tracing of Ord’s Survey Map from 1849. All the originals have been lost. Archival image. Scale approximately 10 inches per mile.

The map, which Ord completed with the assistance of William Rich Hutton, wasn’t commissioned solely for information. Rather, city officials in Los Angeles needed a map of public lands so that this land could be sold, and Ord’s map helped ignite the city’s first real estate land rush.

There’s a copy of Ord’s Map on display in the Spring Street Courthouse, in the gallery just inside the Spring Street entrance, which is the side opposite from where you’ll find the Young Lincoln and Law Statues.

The mural in the Spring Street Courthouse showcasing Ord’s Map on display in the Spring Street Courthouse. Photo from the author’s collection.

The map here is adorned with scenes of sabertooth cats and giant ground sloths on one side and an image of a Catholic priest (Father Junipero Serra, perhaps) and a few Spanish troops behind an naked indigenous person crouched in a position of fealty. While the map itself is interesting, this imagery hasn’t aged well.

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The Legacy of E.O. Ord

Ord was a colorful character and an accomplished military tactician. He rose to the rank of General in the U.S. Army. His troops marched to the Appomattox Courthouse, and Ord was the man who received General Robert E. Lee’s message asking for “suspension of hostilities” prior to talks of surrender in 1865. Ord stood next to General Grant at the official end of the war.

Ord spent the rest of his life in military service, with an emphasis on mapping duties throughout the Western Territories. He died in Havana, Cuba of complications from the yellow fever he’d contracted while supervising the building of a railroad line in Mexico.

Of note, Ord is also thought by some to be the grandson of King George IV and Maria Fitzherbert, the king’s Catholic wife he married in secret. Edward’s father, James Ord, was born a year after the clandestine wedding. James grew up in Spain, raised by the British ambassador, his cousin, then moved to Baltimore. He married a woman named Rebecca and they had a son Edward. Dana Schwartz recounts the story as the postscript of the episode “What Eye Has Wept for George IV” in her Noble Blood podcast series.

In addition to Ord Street in Los Angeles, there is an Ord Street in San Francisco and another in Washington D.C. He’s also the namesake of the now-abandoned Fort Ord near Salinas (which is now the Fort Ord National Monument), the town of Ord, Nebraska, and a handful of geographical landmarks throughout the West.

A Walk Down Ord Street

We begin our walk down Ord Street at its southern terminus, where it ends at Alameda Street.

Block 1 (Between Alameda and Spring)

Ord Street starts out strong. Anchoring its first block at the intersection with Alameda sits Philippe the Original, a restaurant that has been engaged in a century-long feud with another restaurant over the invention of the French Dip sandwich. It’s one of the oldest and most popular restaurants in the city.

Philippe the Original, Downtown Los Angeles
Philippe the Original. Photo from the author’s collection.

Across the street, in a parking lot used by Philippe’s, there’s a great street art mural featuring the late Kobe Bryant of the Lakers and Mookie Betts of the Dodgers by muralists Brian Peterson and Zaoone.

Kobe and Mookie. Photo from the author’s collection.

That mural is on the east-facing side of a relatively new building that’s been home to a few different restaurants in recent years. Right now it’s dominated by Danny Rodriguez’s recently opened Pablito’s World, an Asian-Peruvian Taco/Pizza place that also sells chicken. It makes the bold claim to have the “best tacos in L.A.”

On the top floor of that same retail complex sits the mysterious Treehouse, a nightclub that reviewers aren’t very fond of due primarily to arbitrary enforcement of dress codes and reportedly rude bouncers.

Across the street from Pablito’s stands CBS Seafood, one of two dim sum places on Ord that always seem to be under new management.

Block 2 (Between Alameda and New High)

Crossing Spring, on the north side of Ord you’ll find a pair of restaurants. The first is the Little Jewel of New Orleans, considered to be the best Creole food in Los Angeles. In addition to being a restaurant, it’s also a market specializing in all manner of Louisiana treats from chips and beer to hot sauces and chicory coffee.

The Little Jewel of New Orleans, a slice of old Louisiana in Downtown Los Angeles. Photo from the author’s collection.

Next door to the Little Jewel is ABC Seafood, the other dim sum restaurant on Ord.

The entrance to ABC Seafood. Photo from the author’s collection.

The south side of Ord in this block is filled with many storefronts that are either abandoned or just look a bit run down, starting with Eastern International World which has been closed for some time. Heading northward from there, you’ll come across Linh’s Bakery (a popular Vietnamese bakery which recently closed), Ta Chong Co (a shop selling traditional Eastern medicines), and Panda Massage (foot & body).

Curiously, all the business on the south side, despite being on Ord Street, seem to have Spring Street addresses.

At the end of the block at the corner of New High Street (possibly named after the original High Street was renamed to Ord Street), sits Eastern International Bank, a small local bank (the only other branch is in Monterey Park) that specializes in “promoting the California’s economic activities with the Pacific Rim markets.”

Block 3 (Between New High and Broadway)

The old Tong Gong Market used to be a nice produce market at the northwest corner of New High and Ord, but it closed some years ago in the wake of rising rents. It’s now, like many of the other buildings in this block, just a vacant shell.

The now shuttered Tong Gong market. Photo from the author’s collection.

Across the street from the dilapidated Tong Gong stands the Phoenix Inn, an old-school well-regarded Chinese restaurant.

The Phoenix Inn. Photo from the author’s collection.

One storefront up from the Tong Gong Market is the recently opened Minon Cake, a bakery (filling the baked goods gap left by the loss of Linh’s) that also sells bubble tea. A few doors up from this you’ll come to the My Dung Sandwich Shop, a tiny produce market that makes authentic and inexpensive báhn mi sandwiches in the back. They also sell a small variety of fruits, vegetables, and Vietnamese snacks.

My Dung, a small Vietnamese market serving authentic báhn mi. Photo from the author’s collection.

This block of Ord is home to two Jewelry Shops, though the one on the northeast side looks more like a gift shop. There’s also another massage place, Ord Massage, in this block.

At the end of the block, on the corner of Broadway, you’ll find the Won Won Mini Market, which has been called a neighborhood convenience store.

The Won Won Mini Market, your lottery ticket headquarters. Photo from the author’s collection.

But inside, while it sells a (very) small assortment of snacks and water, it’s really the place where all of Chinatown goes to buy lottery tickets. The walls inside are literally papered with old ticket stubs and the lottery sales over the counter are constant.

Block 4 (Between Broadway and Hill)

In addition to the Won Won Market above, there are two other general markets on the corner of Hill and Ord that sell all manner of trinkets. There used to be a multi-story mall on the northeast corner, but it closed down many years ago. It remains boarded up and empty — and attracts a lot of graffiti — to this day.

The concrete-and-glass edifice of a closed shopping mall. Photo from the author’s collection.

Continuing north along Ord you’ll find the Than Vi Restaurant. Although it was once a full-time restaurant, today the building houses Leroy’s, a part-time art gallery (and some-time restaurant) that’s open Saturdays from 8:00 p.m. to Midnight and Sundays from 6:00 p.m. to 10 p.m.

The Than Vi Restaurant is really Leroy’s. Photo from the author’s collection.

Across the street from the Than Vi building is a vacant lot that was once the site of the Velvet Turtle restaurant. The former high-end eatery’s sign still marks the corner of Ord and Yale. You can read more about this lot and it’s iconic sign at our Velvet Turtle Sign post.

The Velvet Turtle Sign. Photo from the author’s collection.

Block 5 (Between Hill and Yale)

Across Hill Street, diagonal from the Velvet Turtle, you’ll find the relatively small and rather quiet Chinatown Branch Library.

The front of the Chinatown Branch Library. Photo from the author’s collection.

Across the street from the library is a squat mall-type complex known as the Asian Center that’s home to any number of dental offices, medical offices, acupuncturists, restaurants, hair stylists, and even a traffic school.

Ord and Yale Street Park

At the end of Ord Street, right behind the library, sits the small Ord and Yale Street Park, the “park of 10,000 journeys.” This is a unique city park that, after three years of construction at a cost of more than $11 million, finally opened in July 2021.

It boasts a collection of fitness machines and a play area for the kids in the Bamboo Garden Room as well as other interestingly named features like the Dragon Walk (a ramp between the terraced levels), the Lotus Plaza (with an outdoor reading room, rock garden, and waterfall), and the Heavenly Garden. The main entrance to the park off Ord Street is called the Moongate Entry.

Ord and Yale Street Park nestled into the hill beneath an apartment complex. Photo from the author’s collection.

Despite all the fancy names and deluxe features, the park is mostly comprised of steel (painted red) and concrete. And it’s almost always empty. This emptiness may have to do with the fact that the means of entering the park is actively obfuscated. Although the steel sign at the Moongate Entry has “Welcome” stenciled above it, the door beneath it seems to be always locked.

It says Welcome, but you’re locked out on the other side of the most unwelcoming fence. Photo from the author’s collection.

That doesn’t seem very welcoming at all. But the trick to getting in is from the side doors. There are two sets of these along Ord, and they look like they’re locked with a keypad. But they’re not.

Paradoxically enough, this door is not locked. Photo from the author’s collection.

Overall the park, which is built as a terraced structure across a half-acre of hillside, doesn’t have much going on. In the summer months, it bakes in the sun most of the day, and because it’s mostly concrete it can get very warm — even under the shade sails.

Heavenly Stairs

The biggest and most outstanding feature of the Ord and Yale Street Park is the Heavenly Stairs, a steep series of colorful steps that lead from the L-shaped intersection of Ord and Yale Streets up to Hill Place.

The Heavenly Stairs. Photo from the author’s collection.

There are 147 stairs broken up in sets of about 20 steps. As you climb up the steps you’re treated to inspirational affirmations such as “Believe,” “Commit,” and “Release”. Between each set of steps is a landing with uplifting phrases like “The Greatest Wealth is Health” to encourage you to keep you climbing.

The steps are designed as a metaphorical journey “one can experience in pursing health and wellbeing which begins with one step.” At least that’s what the informational plaque in the park tells us. This is, of course, inspired by the famous quote from Lao Tzu: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

If you can make it all the way up the steps, you’re rewarded with a final uplifting phrase.

Congratulations! Photo from the author’s collection.

From the top of the Heavenly Stairs, you’ll be standing at a vista point that gives you a full look at the reverse view of our entire northwestern walk down Ord Street.

A look back down Ord Street from the top of the Heavenly Stairs with the MTA headquarters in the distance. Photo from the author’s collection.

A Walk Down Ord Street

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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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