A Trip Back in Time to Downtown’s Oldest Buildings Via Horse and Buggy

Viviana church

Let’s Ride Out!
The year is 1818, but the first cars won’t be introduced until the late 1890s. For now, they are a rare sight. The only way to take a leisurely ride, visit friends, shop for goods, or build in Downtown Los Angeles (DTLA) is by the world’s most practical transportation favorite – the horse and buggy.


While the commoner would have to get by with the usual two-wheeled, wooden frame, single bench-seater, a wealthy settler might have owned a more ornate carriage with fancier decorations, four wheels, and multiple horses, lending for a more comfortable ride.

The horse buggy also meant there would have been stables, and, yes, of course, each home had one, including a den to raise chickens and milk the cow.

Milking the Cow at Avila Adobe

Adobe Avila

The first cow ever to nourish DTLA must have been milked at the Avila Adobe built in 1818.

The Adobe is the oldest surviving building in Los Angeles, built by Francisco Avila, a wealthy rancher and landowner. A prime example of a traditional Mexican-style home, the Adobe was constructed using adobe bricks made from clay and straw brought in by…

Wait… We hear soldiers.

Is that Commodore Robert F. Stockton and General Stephen W. Kearny riding on a horse and buggy, tattered and worn from battling the Californios in San Gabriel? The Adobe was the site of the signing of the Treaty of Cahuenga in 1847, which ended the Mexican-American War in California.

The Cobblestone Road to Redemption

La Riena

Long before the treaty, thanks to the use of horse and buggy, commerce, agriculture, and the Catholic religion had spread fully incumbent beyond the steps of the Avila Adobe. La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Angeles, also known as the Our Lady Queen of Angels Church, was constructed in close vicinity to spiritually stake claim to the area then known as El Pueblo de Los Angeles.

The Gothic Revival inspired church was originally built in 1822 and served as the city’s first Catholic church. However, the building was destroyed by an earthquake in 1863, and a new church was built on the site in 1864. The current structure is the third incarnation of the church, and it was completed in 1912.

After going through years of constant renovation, La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Angeles still holds religious ceremonies and numerous religious and cultural events, including the annual La Virgen de Guadalupe procession, which attracts thousands of pilgrims each year.

Staying With Us? Take a Taxi to the Hotel

Pick house

Although horse prints, wheel tracks, and droppings over-patterned the grounds of the newly forming Downtown Los Angeles, the horse buggy was terrific for tourism in Downtown. Most tracks led towards our first high-rise, luxury hotel, La Casa de Governor Pío Pico (1870).

PICO House Hotel (as it is referred to in English) remains to this day a Monument in Time, paying homage to its builder, innovative leader Pío de Jesus Pico, the last governor of California under Mexican rule and the first governor of California under American rule.

The hotel had 33 rooms, a bar, and a large dining room that could accommodate up to 500 guests and became a popular destination for travelers and celebrities, including Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th President of the United States, who most likely was one of the first to ever cruise his horse buggy up and down Pico Blvd. 

Just in time for church at St. Vibiana’s Church

Viviana church

Built in the Gothic Revival style, St. Vibiana’s Cathedral served as the mother church of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles until the 1890s, when the horse and buggy was the preferred mode of transportation. The Archdiocese utilized the church buggy to bring in people and goods, especially when it came to visiting clergy and other church officials.

Although riding on a horse and buggy in the late 1800s was common, the experience of riding one would have varied depending on the type of buggy, the quality of the road, and the behavior of the horse. The ride could be quite bumpy, especially on dirt roads or uneven terrain, and passengers would feel every jolt and bump in the road. The ride could also be quite slow, as the horse would typically travel at a leisurely pace, arriving just in time for Sunday service.

Making the Space at Bradbury Building

Bradbury Building

The Bradbury Building, a historic landmark located on Broadway, was completed in 1893. 

Designed by architect George H. Wyman, the building’s most notable feature is its stunning central atrium, which rises five stories high and is filled with natural light that filters in through a skylight. The Bradbury Building was constructed during a time when the horse and buggy was still prevalent, and the design of the building reflects this. 

In addition to its functional design, ornate and decorative elements, superior brick and terra cotta, exterior and adorning the façade, the ground floor arcade was designed wide enough to allow horse-drawn carriages to pass through. The Bradbury is a timeless design and unique blend of functionality and aesthetics that continue to captivate visitors and serve as a testament to the ingenuity and creativity of architects from the horse and buggy era.

Quest for the Gold at Farmers & Merchants Bank

Farmers bank

Designed by architect John Parkinson in 1905, Farmers & Merchants Bank used horse-drawn carriages to transport money and documents. Horse-drawn carriages were a symbol of status and prestige, and the bank’s founders, brothers Isaias W. Hellman and Herman W. Hellman, used them to project an image of stability and trustworthiness to the public. And how did they get to work…?

Wait. We hear sirens.

If at any time bandits tried to get away with the gold, police officers would have happily used the horse buggy to haul them to justice. They would also use the horse buggy to transport evidence from the crime scene. 

Today, Farmers & Merchants Bank is a historic landmark in Los Angeles, and its horse-drawn carriages remain an iconic symbol of the bank’s history and legacy.

Home of Isaias W. Hellman, circa 1900.

Bringing the Goods at Grand Central Market

When Grand Central Market opened in 1917, horse buggies were still in use, but they were no longer the primary mode of transportation for the market. In the years shortly after, the horse buggy gradually phased out in favor of motorized vehicles as the market grew and modernized.

Over the next 100 years, the market hosted dinners arriving by trolley, planes, trains, and automobiles, or by skates, bikes, or on foot.


Long gone are the days when the horse and buggy was used for everything from building the city to leisurely riding around taking in the sights. Yet, the horse and buggy will always remain an essential part of history when it comes to the growth of Downtown Los Angeles, providing memories of the historic means of transportation and leisure that helped the city grow and prosper.

Author: Keri Freeman

Military mom and proud parent, artist, writer, musician and film maker. Cocktail connoisseur. Publisher of DTLA Weekly.

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