99 Photos Celebrate 99 Years of Fiesta, Now at Santa Barbara Historical Museum

As the hundredth anniversary of Old Spanish Days approaches, the Santa Barbara Historical Museum celebrates the festive annual celebration with 99 photographs spanning 99 years in the exhibit “Project Fiesta: 99 Years.” The exhibit is on view through November 12, 2024.

Drawn from the Museum’s Gledhill Library Archive, the photographs capture the spirit of the celebration, which began in 1924 to celebrate the reopening of the Lobero Theatre, and the pageantry and spirit of the event as it grew over the years. They were selected by museum staff, including Museum Director Dacia Harwood.

“Our goal was to take you into nearly 100 years of Fiesta celebrations. There were no restrictions, so not every year is represented, and it is not chronological,” says Harwood. “What we discovered is how little it has actually changed.”

The locations are recognizable in parades down State Street, fireworks over the Old Mission, rodeos at the Earl Warren Showgrounds, pageants at the Santa Barbara Bowl, revelry at El Paseo Restaurant, mercados at Casa de la Guerra, intimate events at Casa Covarrubias (now the Historical Museum’s location), and spot-lit dancers in swirling gowns on stage at both De la Guerra Plaza and the County Courthouse.

Depicted through the years are flower girls, local dignitaries, matrons in Spanish finery, vaqueros on horseback, spellbound children, costumed performers, delighted parade-goers, and the annually selected El Presidentes, Spirits of Fiesta and Saint Barbaras, along with predecessors Queen of Fiesta and Miss Santa Barbara.

Featured are news and publicity photos, postcard images, formal portraits, and those taken by several well-known photographers including Karl Obert (1897-1976), Jessie Tarbox Beals (1870-1942), and Fritz Olenberger (present day).

The Museum has mounted exhibitions celebrating Old Spanish Days for several years, including limited exhibits during the three years of COVID restrictions. This is the first “Project Fiesta” show dedicated entirely to photography.

We also want to inspire people to share their own memories with us as we near the centennial,” said Harwood. “We plan to go all-out for a major exhibition next year, and though our collection is vast, there are some gaps.”

Those interested in helping add to the collection should contact the Museum’s library at archivist@sbhistorical.org.


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