It was a fiesta more than 200 years in the making, one at which Santa Barbara families and community members joined together to throw a birthday party in honor of their town’s Founding Day.
To celebrate the 225th anniversary of the city, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation hosted the bash at the El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park, the purported birthplace of Santa Barbara. The event attracted a host of families, a gaggle of important Santa Barbarans and a whole band of soldados, the Presidio’s original 18th century uniformed soldiers.
Santa Barbara mayor Marty Blum and assemblyman Pedro Nava attended to celebrate and mingle with the town’s residents. Another prominent political figure, Felipe de Neve, California’s first governor – though in the form of an impersonator – spoke to the crowds before a mass was held in the Presidio’s chapel, California’s second oldest historical building.
In an attempt to give community members an opportunity to experience Santa Barbara as it once was, the Trust for Historic Preservation set up several traditional Spanish activities. These were geared mostly toward children, and included pottery and adobe brick making, a traditional corn tortilla kitchen and a hands-on archaeology site.
“I think it’s great to bring over the kids and give them some of the Santa Barbara history while giving them an opportunity for some hands-on learning,” Tammi Shorb, who has lived in Santa Barbara since 1976, said.
To commemorate the significance of the day, the chalice owned by Padre Serra, the Presidio’s first priest and founder of all four Californian Presidios, was used during the morning mass. Paul Coyne, a docent at the state historic park, said use of the chalice is very rare.
Michael Calderon and Barbara Coda – members of Los Descendientes, the moniker of 12th generation Santa Barbarans – attended the festival. Calderon, who is 86 years old, said he still remembers a time when the streets of Santa Barbara were unpaved.
“I think it’s vitally important to keep up the history of Santa Barbara,” Calderon said.
With so much emphasis on history, many of the older residents took the chance to reflect on how Santa Barbara has changed in their own lifetimes.
Ben Valenzuela, a member of Soldiers of the Royal Presidio of Santa Barbara, a living history interpretation group portraying soldados of the Spanish Southwest, showed up to the celebration in full Spanish military attire. Having lived in Santa Barbara for 33 years, Valenzuela said he is conscious of the history represented at the Presidio and also of the changing landscape of Santa Barbara over the last 25 years.
“There has been a lot of growth, but with that growth has come a rise in prices and a lot of injustice in the real estate business,” he said. “Anyone can get a job, but people can’t find anywhere to live that they can afford. There is great injustice there.”