Young women in colorful dresses ride a float that features the flags of America, California and Mexico.
A float from El Desfile Historico (c. 1960) passes by Stearns Wharf as it rolls along the Cabrillo Boulevard parade route. Credit: Courtesy photo

With the 100th anniversary of Old Spanish Days happening in 2024, the Santa Barbara Historical Museum is marking the upcoming milestone this year with Project Fiesta: 99 Years, an exhibit of 99 photographs depicting the history of Old Spanish Days.

The photo show is on view through Nov. 12, 2024 at the museum, 136 E. De la Guerra St.

Drawn from the museum’s Gledhill Library Archive, the photos capture the spirit of the Fiesta celebration, which began in 1924 to mark the reopening of the Lobero Theatre, and the pageantry and spirit of the event as it grew over the years.

The images were selected by museum staff, including director Dacia Harwood.

“Our goal was to take you into nearly 100 years of Fiesta celebrations,” Harwood said. “There were no restrictions, so not every year is represented, and it is not chronological. “What we discovered is how little it has actually changed.”

The locations are recognizable in parades on State Street, fireworks over the mission, rodeos at Earl Warren Showgrounds, pageants at the Santa Barbara Bowl, mercados at Casa de la Guerra, and dancers on stage at De la Guerra Plaza and the County Courthouse.

A 1931 black and white photo shows two men sitting atop white horses at El Paseo. Men and women in Fiesta-style clothing line a stairway to the building's second story.
A black and white photo at El Paseo depicts a scene from Old Spanish Days, circa 1931. Credit: Karl Obert

Depicted through the years are flower girls, local dignitaries, matrons in Spanish finery, vaqueros on horseback, costumed performers, parade-watchers, and the annually selected el presidentes, spirits of Fiesta and Saint Barbaras, along with predecessors Queen of Fiesta and Miss Santa Barbara.

Included are news and publicity photos, postcard images, formal portraits, and those taken by well-known photographers including Karl Obert (1897-1976), Jessie Tarbox Beals (1870- 1942), and Fritz Olenberger (present day).

The museum has mounted exhibitions celebrating Old Spanish Days for several years, including limited exhibits during the three years of COVID-19 restrictions. This is the first Project Fiesta show dedicated to photography.

“We also want to inspire people to share their own memories with us as we near the centennial,” said Harwood. “We plan to go all-out for a major exhibition next year, and though our collection is vast, there are some gaps.”

Those interested in helping add to the collection should contact the museum’s library at

Santa Barbara Historical Museum hours are noon-5 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and noon-7 p.m. Thursdays. Admission is free.