Most UCSB students could tell you that Del Playa is one of the craziest streets around when the 31st hits, but few 21st-century Gauchos have any idea when I.V. Halloween gained such infamy.
“Maybe the ’50s?” Rafael Velazquez, a first-year mechanical engineering major, said. “It was probably crazy then, and craziest in the ’70s.”
Halloween in Isla Vista is nothing short of legendary, but with a transient population that comes and goes every four years, few in the area know when Isla Vistans transformed a single holiday night traditionally suited for small children into the week-long, booze-filled festival it is now.
And freshmen aren’t the only ones lacking knowledge of I.V. Halloween’s beginnings. Fourth-year psychology major Kristen Calille said she had “absolutely no idea” about the history of Halloween.
“I really can’t tell you anything at all,” Calille said. “I guess that as UCSB grew, so did Halloween weekend.”
According to the Daily Nexus archives, Halloween first became popular in the 1980s and was a full-blown booze-a-palooza by 1987, when 35,000 revelers celebrated All Hallow’s Eve in I.V., according to estimates from the county Sheriff’s Dept. Moreover, Halloween was already generating a remarkable number of arrests in its early years, with 1,096 apprehensions made that weekend in ’87.
As for this year, it seems that the upcoming weekend won’t fail expectations; with somewhere around 50,000 inebriated out-of-towners expected to hit the streets of Isla Vista, Halloween 2009 promises to be quite a spectacle.
Long-time Isla Vista resident and self-proclaimed “I.V. historian” Carmen Lodise discussed the history of Halloween in his recently published book, Isla Vista: A Citizen’s History. According to Lodise, thousands of San Diego State University students arrived in chartered buses in 1986 to partake in the festivities.
“The town was a madhouse,” Lodise wrote. “You literally had to yell to [have] yourself heard to a person standing next to you as far inland as Abrego Road.”
In 1999, the Nexus interviewed Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Sgt. Ken Reinstadler — who at that point had been working in I.V. for 21 years — about his memories from the ’80s.
“[T]here was this guy in a gorilla suit hanging around and chumming up to the officers, trying to get his picture taken with them,” Reinstadler said. “Well, at this time, there was no problem with the officers having their pictures taken, so when the deputies were looking forward and smiling to have their picture taken with this guy, he would pull out this large, grotesque object from his groin area and make lewd gestures toward the officers for the camera.”
Reinstadler also reminisced over some other memorable costumes, including an eight-man penis suit and a two-person “69” costume.
Former Santa Barbara City College student Robyn Martinez, who lived in Isla Vista during the early 1980s, said that local laws and restrictions were much looser during her time.
“We were able to walk around with drinks in our hand, and people would bike down Del Playa Drive with kegs on the back and hand out drinks,” Martinez said.
As to whether young females dressed in slim-to-none costumes two decades ago, Martinez replied, “Yes, definitely. I remember a lot of nurses.”
Martinez also said Terminator and Reagan costumes were a favorite during her time.
According to local lore, Isla Vista’s notoriety shot up after Playboy Magazine declared Halloween weekend one of the nation’s best parties in a 1991 issue. While this same Playboy Magazine article later turned out to be a myth, 1992’s Halloween was record breaking at the time, attracting an estimated 40,000 people to Isla Vista and resulting in over 1,000 arrests over the weekend.
In 1993, concerned with the spike in arrests over Halloween weekend, the Sheriff’s Dept. came up with the idea to enforce a “Five-Year Plan” — essentially a zero tolerance alcohol policy — which they have continued to employ in Isla Vista every weekend for the past 16 years.
And with each year’s change of costume, new problems arise, compounded by technological advances. In recent years, partygoers have struggled with communication blackouts due to the overwhelming number of calls made from cell phones. Moreover, the internet — via such sites as Facebook and YouTube — has increased Halloween’s notoriety and with it the masses.