Old Spanish Days – Fiesta

Santa Barbara, CA. July 31 - August 4, 2024

History of La Primavera

Santa Barbarans intent upon reviewing the past met in September 1919 to organize an association to arrange a spring carnival. Their aim was to "perpetuate through a spring festival the memory of the early Spanish and pioneer days of California, not alone of Santa Barbara." The promoters hoped to secure a playwright who would weave "data on the Spanish and pioneer days into an historical pageant." The masque was to be one in which old time families could participate, with only the leads being taken by professional actors.

Officials expected that "the winter tourist who had sojourned at San Francisco, San Diego and other tourist centers will come this way at the end of his stay to take part in the spring festival." La Primavera Association was formed to promote the undertaking. They worked to sell membership buttons on which there was a red replica of the tower of Saint Barbara on a white ground, to promote seat sales for the projected pageant, and to sell Primavera flags. The flag which flies during Old Spanish Days Fiestas has its origin in the festival of April 28 and 29, 1920.

The banner is red, white, and yellow with Saint Barbara's tower in the corner. During that first festival, small printed silk flags on spearhead staffs and larger printed cotton and wool bunting of both festival and Spanish ensign designs were sold. The Primavera banner became official and flew along with the United States flag when the new City Hall was dedicated on June 2, 1923. According to the Morning Press on June 3, 1923, it "yesterday was officially adopted as the city festival flag." In soliciting purchasers of the five-dollar Primavera memberships, the finance and publicity committee stated that the intent of the organization was to "establish an annual reunion day for all early day residents of California" and to "arrange for a fittingly beautiful and dignified celebration and historically accurate representation of the early or springtime period of California's colorful customs, romantic life and interesting history." When the directors of La Primavera Association met on February 5, 1920, they were delighted with the portions of a projected play which Wallace Rice read to them.

He had written it after an exhaustive study of California and Santa Barbara traditions. He saw that there was fine local talent and many descendants of the old settlers could portray Spanish and American pioneers. Qualified musicians collected and recorded early Indian, California, and Spanish music for the play. Mrs. Herminia De la Guerra Lee assisted in securing and training dancers. When Samuel Hume came from the Greek Theatre in Berkeley to direct the pageant, he told Santa Barbarans that nature had given them a perfect setting for the performance (near Canon Perdido Street and east of the former Presidio). This location is now the Peabody Stadium of Santa Barbara High School. Then it was a creek bed. Spanish traditions lent remarkable color to it. There were fewer than a dozen speaking parts in the show, but the chorus, dancers, and other participants brought the total to about three hundred.

"El Barbareño," played by Irving Pichel, recited three prologues to introduce the three acts: the first, Primavera and her twelve dancing months; then, the Spanish; and then, the American periods of Santa Barbara and California history, depicted by appropriate songs and authentic dances. The "springtime" masque was a theatrical success, but eventually the organization found that it was greatly in debt for the music and the elaborate staging and costuming, and the Primavera Association never presented another offering. The festivities had not ended Thursday night. On the following morning, horseback sports at Athletic Park occupied riders and entertained guests. In the afternoon, horsemen gaily dressed and decorated with Spanish colors led a parade of school children "dressed in white, garlanded with long green and bright-colored streamers made of fern leaves fastened together with bright flowers."