The Calle López is, for many international visitors, precisely the sort of “Real Mexico City” street they were looking for. It runs from the Palacio de Bellas Artes in the north directly south to the Mercado de San Juan, Arcos de Belén. In the very north, some shops are specialized, in lamps and lighting, hardware, and restaurant supply.
There are a number of exceptional buildings, such as that pictured above. The Moyotlan neighborhood is particularly treasured for its 1920s Arte Deco. Some earlier versions draw from “Neo-Indigenist” design, and those few examples are referred to as “Aztec Deco.” They’re very rare indeed. All the best examples, though, are concentrated on the Calle Lopez: the Edificio Victoria (pictured), plus the Edificio Viena, and the Edificio Rex, to name a few.
Mexico City’s Main Street
But don’t understand the Calle López as a mere collection of historical buildings. That would really be to miss the point entirely. The street is in fact the model that urbanists and city planners try to recreate in cities large and small around the world. Lots of people live upstairs from the thriving mixed commerce at street level. But the exact formula that keeps small businesses here thriving is hard to pin down.
As one travels south, crossing Ayuntamiento, one discovers a startlingly successful main street. With mixed independently owned commerce, it’s like a scene from a different era.
Never too posh, there are practically no chain businesses. And there’s never a storefront for rent. Pedestrian traffic starts at eight in the morning and remains constant until about six in the evening. This is seven days a week. There are lunch places. There are some areas where the puestitos crowd everything just a little too much. But by and large, it’s a thriving commercial thoroughfare.
The street traces its history, with this name, to the 18th century. It appears on maps even older, even well into the ancient period. No conclusive evidence as to which López is honored here has ever been presented. The most oft-cited reference is to law-man and soldier, Ignacio López Rayón (1773–1832). His mother, the amply named María Josefa Rafaela López-Aguado y López-Bolaños (1754–1822) gets mentioned a lot too. But no one knows for sure.
The Street Every City Wants
Meticulously studied, the street is the subject of a 2013 Dutch documentary. And that’s not even to mention the studies by urbanists. In 2015, the City renamed (or subtitled) the street Vía del Exilio Español. This was to honor of the tremendous number of Spanish exiles who’ve lived, worked, shopped, and eaten here since the Spanish Civil War. But it’s a street of everybody, for everybody, and where everyone seems to come together.
Have lunch at the Mercado de San Juan at the very south – or at any of the places along the way. Getting there you’ll see much of the best of Mexico City. It’s on both sides of the street. And it’s happening every single day.