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Santa Barbara’s Old Spanish Days Fiesta, Yesterday and Today

Fiesta dancers at El Paseo. Courtesy of the Presidio Research Center.

While the confetti from cascarones is still being swept away from State Street, I want to take a moment to reflect on the success of this year’s Old Spanish Days Fiesta celebration and SBTHP’s Casa Cantina. This year, I got to work with Anne Petersen to develop a display of Fiesta photographs from the late 1920s for SBTHP’s Casa Cantina.

Donated to SBTHP by Pearl Chase herself, these photos offer a peek into the past and a newfound appreciation of Fiesta’s development over the past nearly nine decades (this year was the 88th anniversary). Plus, many of the photos are the work of Karl Obert, whose California-based architectural photography is iconic.

Fiesta performers assemble at Casa de la Guerra. Courtesy of the Presidio Research Center.

While the photographs themselves are precious and full of lush information about the participants’ style and passion during the festival, I had a lot of fun learning about how complex Fiesta actually is. Nowadays, it’s really easy to think of Fiesta as a big party with lots of tourists, parking problems, food, beer, and parades; but, knowing how much the festival meant to its founders and all the events that have endured since the first Fiesta in 1924 really put into perspective how important Fiesta is to our city and to our history.

The research consisted of some true gems from the Presidio Research Center: Stella Haverland Rouse’s Santa Barbara’s Spanish Renaissance & Old Spanish Days (1974), Karl Obert’s This is California (1957), Kevin Starr’s Material Dreams: Southern California Through the 1920s (1990), and original Old Spanish Days programs from as far back as 1926. Each piece offered a new interpretation and perspective, but all were united in the idea that Fiesta is a crucial component of Santa Barbara.

Fiesta-goers checking out the photo display. Photo by Stephanie Byrd.

The final product, a modest display of eight captioned photographs of various sizes, served to welcome visitors to SBTHP’s Casa Cantina, drawing guests from the busy Mercado in Plaza de la Guerra to learn and appreciate Fiesta’s founding. The entire collection from Miss Chase will soon be available for viewing on SBTHP’s new online collections website launching this October, so keep your eye out!

For any further questions or inquiries about the photos or the research materials used in this project, please contact Anne Petersen at the Presidio Research Center at (805) 966-5073.

Stephanie Byrd is a graduate student at USC pursuing a Master’s in Planning, with an emphasis in Historic Preservation. She is the 2012 Jim and Sue Higman Intern at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, and on the weekends she’s a vivacious Presidio neighborhood tour guide in need of tour takers!



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