As the official opening open of Old Spanish Days Fiesta closes in, here’s a look back: Excerpted from the WPA American Guide Series to Santa Barbara, 1941.
A latent longing for the less prosaic was found everywhere under the surface of the casual, and it soon found expression in the task of re-creating the romantic yesterday. In every home there were preparation and anticipation. All-but-forgotten melodies and dances were revived. Charming ladies had learned them in their long-gone youth and, though their years bordered on the century mark, they graciously and skillfully taught them to eager new generations.
The city was draped in scarlet and gold, the old royal colors of once mighty Spain. Precious heirlooms, unearthed from family chests, again graced proud forms—quaint ruffled frocks, gay shawls, and high, gracefully carved combs. Silver braid, bright sashes, and broad sombreros emboldened the most retiring citizens as they embarked on the synthetic adventures of other days and other ways.
This was the atmosphere of the first old Spanish Days Fiesta in 1924, and the same spirit has characterized every subsequent renewal.
The fiesta begins with a reception and pageant on the steps of the Santa Barbara Mission. There the throng of residents and visitors, most of them in costume, are blessed formally by the Franciscan friars and are invited to participate in the festivities. On the second day an historical pageant passes down the main streets. In this procession are oxcarts, covered wagons, stagecoaches, and flower-bedecked floats, bearing musicians and gay senoritas. Marchers and riders are dressed as characters of early Santa Barbara history—as caballeros and their ladies, as soldiers, Indians, Franciscan padres, Yankee tappers, and miners.
Fiesta nights are featured by street dances, the singing of old Spanish songs by strolling troubadours, entertainments in the sunken garden of the County Courthouse, and by a pageant in the Santa Barbara County Bowl, portraying episodes in the history of the city under Spanish and Mexican rule. Children’s parades, a flower festival and a rodeo in the old Spanish style are other attractions of the four-day celebration.
Horsemen come from far and near to attend the fiesta, and each visiting rider or driver is given stable facilities without charge. Santa Barbara enjoys its fiesta, and the number of visitors it attracts from all over the nation steadily grows with each succeeding renewal.