Although the Old Spanish Days celebration only runs for four days each year, visual reminders of the 19th-century era abound throughout the city year-round in the form of public art. Writer/historian Erin Graffy de Garcia has kindly sleuthed out the Fiesta-themed creations that pepper our town in her recent book, Old Spanish Days: Santa Barbara History Through Public Art.
“Santa Barbara loves, lives, breathes — dare I say — seeps history,” she writes in the introduction. “This is why you might find history where you least expect it: a public space, a restaurant, or even an office building is likely to blossom forth with some vestige of history preserved on a canvas, painted on a wall, flashed in a weathervane, captured in a tile mural, or enshrined in a frieze on a courtyard eave.”
Graffy de Garcia has found reminders of those halcyon days both tucked into the unlikeliest spaces and splayed out in iconic glory. For example, there is a tile mural that depicts Don Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo’s beach landing of 1542 at restaurant El Torito (29 E. Cabrillo Blvd.); paintings of cowmen and folks in Spanish dress at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse (1100 Anacapa St.); a bas-relief medallion of Saint Barbara over a doorway downtown (14 E. Carrillo St.); a painted detail of a Spanish rider on a rearing horse at Paradise Café (702 Anacapa St.); and a mural portraying the dances of Spain and Mexico at the Arlington Theatre (1317 State St.).
Old Spanish Days is our city’s equivalent to Hollywood’s “Star Maps.” Pick up a copy and take a delightful tour through the streets of Santa Barbara and back in time.
Old Spanish Days: Santa Barbara History Through Public Art is available at Chaucer’s Books and the S.B. Historical Museum.