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A gathering of museum patrons, chair members, sponsors and Fiesta enthusiasts donned in colorful and lavish Old Spanish Days-inspired attire converged beneath the stars at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum last Saturday to celebrate the history and spirit of Fiesta at the 71st annual La Fiesta del Museo.

Guests embarked upon the historic landmark within the museum’s romantic Spanish-style courtyard for an evening of fine cuisine, spectacular dancing and live entertainment. Tables were adorned in the decor of Fiesta, and the museum’s grounds elegantly captured the spirit of the evening.

The museum is currently staging an exhibit in celebration of the 90th anniversary of Old Spanish Days, and all members of the community and visitors are welcome to join in the pageantry and tradition of one of Santa Barbara’s most popular events.

The exhibit, Project Fiesta! Building a Complete History of Old Spanish Days, runs through Sept. 28 and includes costumes, posters, historical photos and more.

A silent auction commenced the festivities as guests sipped Fiesta cocktails, wine and tequila tastings while nibbling on tacos and surveying items up for bid.

The crowd and honorary event chair Sharon Bradford shared a festive mood, as guests were greeted by master of ceremonies John Palminteri, who took center stage to welcome the crowd.

Recently anointed Executive Director Lynn Brittner shared with Noozhawk about participating in her first fundraising event at the museum and spoke of a new costume collection conservation launching as part of the evening.

“We are launching a costume-fund drive,” Brittner said. “We have an incredible Santa Barbara historical costume collection in the vaults that haven’t been seen for many, many years. So my goal is start conserving them, rehousing them and putting them on exhibit. And so every year we want to have a spectacular costume exhibit. So all of the funds we raise tonight are going to be towards helping the costume exhibit.”

El Presidente 2014 Dennis Rickard told Noozhawk of the long history his family has with Old Spanish Days, with his grandfather James Rickard, who was one of the original incorporators of Old Spanish Days, and his father, who was El Presidente in 1948 and 1949, and two special moments that he’s proud to acknowledge.  

“One of the fun things that I’m going to be able to do is ride the silver saddle in the Fiesta Parade that my grandfather made in the ’20s, which is a beautiful silver saddle full of 2,000 pieces of hand-stamped silver and is on loan to the Santa Barbara Carriage Museum. And I’ll be able to ride it New Year’s Day in Pasadena since we’ve been selected for the Rose Parade after a two-year struggle and the committee doing all kinds of hard work, and so forth and so on. For the first time in our history, we have an entry in the Rose Parade.”

Santa Barbara High School student Talia Ortega Vestal, who has been dancing since age 4, wowed the crowd of onlookers as the Spirit of Fiesta 2014 was joined by fourth-grader Natalie Mowers of Hollister Elementary and this year’s Junior Spirit.

The evening heated up as Timo Nunez enthralled onlookers with an intense and passionate flamenco dance performance, and the special evening turned up a notch as the dance floor quickly filled up and supporters kicked up their heels dancing into the night to the tunes of Mezcal Martini.

“The old Spanish days of early 19th century California was a fascinating society in history,” said Erin Graffy, author of Old Spanish Days: Santa Barbara History Through Public Art, which tells the story of the era and is illustrated with public art of Santa Barbara. “So much of our public art is based on this picturesque era in California history. This Spanish Arcadia of early California was the inspiration for Santa Barbara ‘Old Spanish Days Fiesta’ and was distinguished by expert horsemen, extraordinary hospitality and an exhilarating love of music and dance.”

A presentation and book signing will be take place at 11 a.m. Wednesday, July 23 at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum. Tickets are $10 for guests, and members receive free entry. A book signing and tour of some of the downtown public art featured in the book will also be conducted at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, July 26 starting at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at mwalker@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at mwalker@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.