The heart-tugging reunion in The Kid (1921) played between Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp and his “adopted” son (Jackie Coogan) remains one of the most emotionally charged scenes in all of film history. Remarkably, the setting for this iconic scene remains standing, and is passed unknowingly by hundreds of tourists every day. As shown here, the reunion took place on Olvera Street, a colorful Mexican marketplace and cultural center, just north of the Plaza de Los Angeles, that has been a top downtown tourist spot for over 80 years.
Originally named Wine Street, Olvera Street was renamed in honor of Judge Augustin Olvera, a signatory to the Mexican surrender to the United States in January 1847, and later the first Superior Court Judge of Los Angeles County. The street is home to the oldest building in town, the Avila Adobe, built in 1818, and the Pelanconi House, the oldest brick house in the city, dating from 1855. Olvera Street runs south towards the Plaza de Los Angeles, where Felipe de Neve and a band of settlers founded the city on September 4, 1781. Other city landmarks surround the Plaza, including the Plaza Fire Station, built in 1884, which has appeared both in Buster Keaton’s The Goat (1921) and the contemporary television crime drama Bones.
You can read a complete overview of all of The Kid locations at this post How Charlie Chaplin Filmed The Kid.
Chaplin fashioned his tenement set for his earlier short film Easy Street (1917) after Methley Street, in his boyhood London neighborhood Lambeth. To add greater realism, he also filmed at the Plaza de Los Angeles (below), and at the same Olvera Street spot where he filmed The Kid.
In 1928, when civic leader Christine Sterling learned that the Avila Adobe was set to be demolished, she rallied a campaign to restore the building, while converting Olvera Street into a Mexican cultural center. Olvera Street opened on Easter Sunday, 1930, and has been a popular tourist destination ever since.
Gerald Smith, Bonnie McCourt, and David Totheroh, the grandson of Chaplin’s cameraman Rollie Totheroh, discovered this location, in part, from clues revealed during a 1964 family interview with the senior Totheroh. To read more about The Kid and Easy Street, check out my book Silent Traces.
All images from Chaplin films made from 1918 onwards, copyright © Roy Export Company Establishment. CHARLES CHAPLIN, CHAPLIN, and the LITTLE TRAMP, photographs from and the names of Mr. Chaplin’s films are trademarks and/or service marks of Bubbles Incorporated SA and/or Roy Export Company Establishment. Used with permission.