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Books: Old Spanish Days: Santa Barbara History Through Public Art

Author Erin Graffy de Garcia Finds S.B.’s Spanish Soul


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.

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