Last Thursday at the historic Rancho la Patera & Stow House in Goleta, members of the community and veterans of the Old Spanish Days celebration donned their rancher’s best and gathered for catered food, live music, dancing, and drinks. This year’s commencement event was held in honor of the Santa Barbara Mission’s 225th anniversary, and aimed to provide residents with a preview of the fiesta’s festivities, which celebrate Santa Barbara’s rich post-colonial history and will run through the first week of August.
“This is our fourth year of doing it here and we really wanted to bring Goleta back into it,” said Joanne Funari, “La Presidenta” of 2011’s fiesta. “If you look at the historical perspective, when it started in the early 1900s not many people were coming to Santa Barbara so they put on the celebration to bring people to the city. It’s a happy feeling; everyone is having a good time, but there is also a great deal of history behind it.”
This year will feature some of the Old Spanish Days classics, including the Mercado del Norte, a family-oriented venue with salsa music and a mini-carnival, a State Street parade from Victoria to Ortega, and Las Noches de Ronda (The Nights of Gaiety), a three-day variety show with Mexican folklore, dancing, and song at the County Courthouse’s Sunken Gardens.
New this year is the “Little Fiesta” event at the Santa Barbara Mission, where the Mission’s padres will bless the start of the celebration, and a poster competition, which has received 37 submissions to date.
“There is a lot of good stuff happening,” said Funari. “Everybody should come on out to the fiesta — we are going to have a lot of fun and surprises this year.”
Arranged in a wagon-train oval around the front lawn of the Stow House, a U.S. landmark built in the 1880s in carpenter-gothic style, representatives from Woody’s Bar-B-Q, Anna’s Bakery, Hollister Brewery, and more offered free food and tequila tasting to a crowd of around 200 visitors.
Before local eight-piece band Area 51 started their set, the two “spirits” of the fiesta gave a preview of their dancing talent in full traditional Spanish dress. A highly competitive title, a new “spirit” and “junior spirit” (in the 16-20 and 9-11 age brackets, respectively) is chosen each year to lead Mercado and Santa Barbara Courthouse performances. This year’s junior spirit is 11-year-old Anais Crespo Pena, who has been dancing since she was three, and has attended Fiesta “since I was a tiny baby, before I could walk.”
Seventeen-year-old spirit Marisa Leon Haro also started dancing at an early age. She graduated from St. Bonaventure High School last spring with high academic honors.
“I think they have done such a great job,” said Erika Martin del Campo, the 2010 spirit. “I know what they have gone through and are going through now — the stress and the excitement.”
The partnership between Old Spanish Days and the Goleta Valley Historical Society for the Stow House fiesta reception began in 2004, but the building itself has long been a part of the celebration’s history. At the turn of the Century, planter’s daughter Sally Stow married into the De La Guerra family and helped start the first Old Spanish Days in 1924.
“It has long roots in the community, and it’s really great to have this event here,” said Anne Petersen, president of the Goleta Valley Historical Society. “It’s wonderful, especially in this economy, to show off what Goleta has to offer. Even though this event is only four years old, the tradition of celebrating Old Spanish Days at Stow house goes back very far.”
Sponsors for Thursday’s Fiesta Ranchera included Bartlett, Pringle & Wolf, Albertsons, Media Sponsor Cox, MarBorg Industries, and others, with parking services provided by Goleta Boy Scout Troop 105.
For more information about Old Spanish Days and a schedule of events planned for the event, which officially begins August 3, and features 43 different cultural activities and celebrations through August 7, visit oldspanishdays-fiesta.org.