This is a love story, amour amid stormy weather. And there’s a mudslide in the middle of it. It’s a script for a disaster romance that no Hollywood studio would turn down. But beyond the drama of calamity and the emotional uncertainty that comes with simultaneous celebration and mourning, this is a story about a community’s effort to witness and provision new beginnings, even in the early stages of its own daunting physical and spiritual recovery.
Recall the days before the Thomas Fire, before the hills fell: Santa Barbara had enduring heat through the fall, and we crossed our fingers for a wet winter to alleviate the doldrums of drought. The Hotel Californian, a luxury complex on the waterfront, opened after years of construction and preparation. Julio Peñuela, a seasoned hospitality service professional, had been working tirelessly on the Californian’s staff development.
Julio had been in Santa Barbara almost a decade and had done tours of duty at several of Santa Barbara’s finer establishments, including El Encanto and the Bacara, where he met Macy Weiser. She was a redheaded beauty working concierge, and he developed a crush on her (from a respectable distance). The couple finally hit it off at a party: Too bad it was Macy’s going-away party before moving to San Francisco. The two kept in contact, and when Macy returned to her native Montecito, Julio put in a good word to get her hired where he worked, at El Encanto.
The romantic-milestone montage that followed included moments beneath the parade of lights in the harbor, an engagement in Mexico, and planning a lovely, rustic, California-chic wedding that would bring family and friends together from around the world. Macy and Julio sent out invitations for a celebration in the Santa Ynez Valley for January 20, 2018.
Fall turned to winter, and a few days into unsuspecting December, the Ventura hills caught fire. Having grown up in Montecito, Macy was no stranger to smoke columns on the horizon — but watching the blaze assault the coast, updated in real time on social media, was overwhelming. She and Julio evacuated their home in Montecito and hoped it would still be standing when the danger had passed. It was a harrowing series of weeks, but the fire was contained by the beginning of the new year, and the community collectively exhaled a clear-aired sigh of relief.
Until the rains came. Cliché but accurate, a dark and stormy night brought devastation to Montecito. A torrent of mud, held to the barren hillsides by only the charred remains of weedling tendrils, washed through the canyons unbridled, heedless of society’s structures.
Macy and Julio awoke that night to confusion — an explosion from a destroyed gas line had sparked a fire that set the dumping skies aglow in an apocalyptic tableau. The creeks on either side of their house had turned to runaway rapids that surged over their banks, and the couple knew a debris flow was an imminent possibility. Without power or cell service, they decided to wait out the storm at El Encanto, but the freeway was closed and the back roads were impassable, either flooded up to the hood of the car or strewn with downed power lines. After several hours of driving through darkness and downpour, the couple made one last effort to escape Montecito — they crested the hill on Jameson Lane and were faced with an unrecognizable landscape of mud, dotted with empty cars washed downstream, an eerie prelude to the yet-unfathomable disaster.
In the morning, the full extent of the devastation was evident. Everything for a block on either side of their house was gone. The sudden void replacing the neighborhoods in which Macy had grown up was disturbing; it was difficult to reconcile that the gentle creek she’d played in as a child, with toy boats and fishing lures despite a lack of fish, was the same swelling flood that had destroyed homes and stolen lives.
Like the washed-away reminders of a happy childhood, Macy and Julio’s wedding, a symbolic beginning of a bright new future, seemed susceptible to ruin. After seven months of planning, their venue in Los Alamos was unreachable. Inaccessible, too, were many of the vendors providing services for the event. But the more pressing emotional priority was the staggering loss to the community. Amid grief and confusion, Macy and Julio felt a flagging motivation to reinvent a wedding from scratch in only a few weeks. Though grateful to be unscathed, a celebration didn’t feel like the most appealing idea. With resignation, they considered postponement or a quiet elopement.
But the battered community, in need of joyful occasions, rallied behind the young couple. Macy and Julio’s wedding planner, Tanya Paye of RSVP Weddings, took up her clients’ cause. In a 72-hour period, Tanya sent upward of 2,000 texts to get any available wedding vendors on board for the Peñuela-Weiser nuptial celebration, and the generosity of the community exploded as vendor after vendor offered their services. In only a few days, the couple went from accepting that life can get in the way of celebrating milestones to having a ceremony built with the love and support of their community.
On January 19, 2018, Macy Weiser married Julio Peñuela at the Hotel Californian. One hundred people came to celebrate the couple: Those who could drive did so; those who couldn’t braved the crowded trains or arrived by boat. “It’s hard to ask for help, especially when you realize you’re so lucky compared to what other people have lost,” said Macy of her and Julio’s brush with calamity. Yet the vendors who offered their services expressed common sentiment and motivation: overcoming the halt of the tragedy by focusing on positive manifestations of forward momentum.
Some detractors felt that a wedding so soon after a tragedy was insensitive, but the wedding was more than just a celebration of Macy and Julio’s love and commitment. The observance of a joyful, fresh start was a soothing moment for a community in chaos that reminded everyone that happiness can flourish even in dark times. From the literal ashes, Macy and Julio’s incredible “potluck” wedding not only brought family, friends, and community together to share an atmosphere full of love; it represented the indomitable spirit of Santa Barbara and Montecito, even in the wake of catastrophe.
Vendor Donated Services
Hair and Makeup: Absolutely Fabulous Glamour
Assistant Coordinator: Amy Grace Events
Lighting, Staging & Draping: Bella Vista Designs
Lodging: Belmond El Encanto
Catering Rentals: Catering Connection
Reception DJ: DJ Hecktik
Ceremony DJ: DJ Zeke
Hair and Makeup: Fairytale Hair & Makeup
Live Band: Heart & Soul Band
Venue: Hotel Californian
Additional Photographer/Videographer: I Heart My Groom
Photographer: Kiel Rucker Photography
Speciality Linens: La Tyvola Linens
Ceremony musician: Laurie Rasmussen, harpist
Florals: Margaret Joan Florals
Lounge Furniture & Vintage Rentals: Milk & Honey Vintage Rentals
Officiant: Miriam Lindbeck
Assistant Coordinator: Nina Moore Designs
Videographer: Riviera Productions
Coordinator: RSVP Weddings and Events
Hair: Salon D
Graphic Design: Sammie Bosco Designs
Transportation: Sammy’s Limos
Design: Selena Marie Events
Dance Floor & Linens: Santa Ynez Elite Party Rentals
Lounge Furniture: Tiger Lily Rentals
Makeup: Tru Beauty
Floral & Décor Strike: The Wedding Trashers