“How important it is to remember our history, and to have a place where we can remember,” said Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider on Saturday. “This is a special event for all Santa Barbara that will bring together all segments of our community for the purpose of celebrating the 228th birthday of our beautiful city.”
The annual Founding Day celebration brought history to life for Santa Barbara residents on April 17, reliving the observances and daily tasks of the first Spanish settlers of El Presidio de Santa Barbara. Hosted by the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP), the city’s birthday brought community members of all ages out to the historic site at 123 East Canon Perdido Street for a day of fun and learning.
Founded in 1782, Santa Barbara’s Royal Presidio was the last Spanish fortress in Alta California, built to protect missionaries and settlers from attack. In 1963, Pearl Chase created the SBTHP as a way to preserve the city’s history and restore El Cuartel, a building within the old Presidio which is now the second oldest building in the entire state.
Father Ron Talbott began the day with a morning Mass in the Presidio Chapel, followed by a birthday cake for the early arrivals. At midday, Los Soldados de Cuera (soldiers of the Royal Presidio) marched through the lawn, demonstrating a ceremony that represented claiming the land for Spain. The soldados are a historical group who re-enact the lives of soldiers and civilians from the period of 1769-1821. Dressed in an authentic, scarlet-trimmed uniform, one officer rotated clockwise, dropping bits of dirt in each of the four cardinal directions, symbolizing ownership of the land all around him. The ceremony wrapped up with the raising of the 1782 Spanish flag and the firing of a musket round from the soldados.
Several direct descendents of the military outpost’s original Spanish soldiers participated in the event or attended to show their support. Tony Pico, Santa Barbara resident and former soldado, traces his lineage back to soldier Jose Miguel Pico. “It’s gratifying to see there’s interest,” Pico said. “This is a good thing for me; it’s a labor of love.” Each year the SBTHP encourages relatives to participate in Founding Day to help preserve their own history, as well as the city’s. “They are very devoted and proud of their heritage,” said Jared Brach of SBTHP. “They make it a point to be here every year.”
After the show, attendees were free to visit the various informational activities set up around the park. Free museum exhibits and craft demonstrations gave participants a live experience with the historic structure. “It’s really a hands-on day — not just witness a ceremony and go home,” Brach said. “Actually get a sense of what life was like a couple hundred years ago in Santa Barbara.”
Each year Moises Solis and Sheila Libby partake in the festivities with their demonstration of blacksmithing. Solis first learned the blacksmith trade from his father in Mexico, and continued his practice for historical societies around California. As a state employee of the Purisima Mission in Lompoc, Solis put his skills to use, showing how tools were made while Libby explained to curious onlookers how he made each piece. This friendly team answered everyone’s questions, and even gave out handmade nails to those who stopped by.
Whether it was the colorfully costumed characters, the educational stimulus, or the delicious tacos served by the “Taco Man,” the festivities were something that people of all ages could enjoy.