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Project Fiesta Gives Santa Barbara Historical Museum a Broader View of Our Favorite Festival

Exhibit, open through Sept. 28, chronicles evolution of Old Spanish Days and the highlights of its history

Fiesta, circa 1925.
Fiesta, circa 1925.  (Santa Barbara Historical Museum photo)

By Allyson Werner, Noozhawk Contributing Writer | @NoozhawkNews |

In celebration of the 90th anniversary of Santa Barbara’s Old Spanish Days Fiesta, the Santa Barbara Historical Museum is hosting “Project Fiesta,” an exhibit that highlights the history of Santa Barbara’s most popular cultural festival. The exhibit outlines Fiesta’s history by decade, and features vintage posters, artwork, costumes, artifacts, photos and more.

Founded in 1932, the Santa Barbara Historical Museum is located at 136 E. De la Guerra St. in the historic El Pueblo Viejo district. The museum works to interpret and analyze more than 500 years of history, and includes collections from the Chumash, Mexican, Spanish and American periods.

The exhibit, which runs through Sept. 28, provides visitors with the opportunity to learn more about Fiesta’s cultural significance and widespread impact. In addition to collecting images and other artifacts, the exhibition gather stories and oral histories from festival participants. Quotes from influential figures accompany the historical timeline and narrate the evolution of Fiesta over the years.

The first Fiesta was held in 1924 to honor Santa Barbara’s Spanish and Mexican roots. The festivals quickly gained popularity, and during the 1930s, Fiesta’s audience extended into Hollywood and beyond.

1941 Fiesta poster. (Santa Barbara Historical Museum photo)
1941 Fiesta poster. (Santa Barbara Historical Museum photo)

Celebrities like Leo Carrillo and political luminaries like California governors traveled to celebrate the local festival and attracted more people to the event.

Despite its popularity, Fiesta was not immune to disruption. Fiesta experienced its first cancelations in the 1940s during World War II. The festival was canceled from 1942 to 1945 and then again in 1948 because of a severe drought.

By the 1960s, however, Fiesta’s major events were set in place. The festival attracted thousands of visitors and to this day serves as a major boost to Santa Barbara’s economy.

Although “Project Fiesta” is a seasonal exhibit, the museum features exhibits year round and serves as an important resource for local historians. For example, the Gledhill Library is open to the public, and its collections focus on the history of Santa Barbara County.

Click here for more information about the Santa Barbara Historical Museum. 

Noozhawk contributing writer Allyson Werner can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

The De la Guerra family in 1924, in a photo from the collection of John Woodward. (Santa Barbara Historical Museum photo)
The De la Guerra family in 1924, in a photo from the collection of John Woodward. (Santa Barbara Historical Museum photo)

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