A successful celebration on a shoestring
By SALLY CAPPON
iesta began with a new theatre, a full moon, and an idea.
With a brand-new Lobero Theatre opening in the summer of 1924, civic leaders sought a way to celebrate the auspicious event.
Only a few weeks in the planning, with a modest $5,000 budget, organizers managed to pull together a diverse group including descendants of early Spanish settlers, art lovers and business people.
That first Fiesta included a parade, pageants, a queen contest, rodeo and dancing. Dwight Murphy, noted area horseman, was asked to organize a parade -- with a whopping $200 budget. He and others came up with the idea of a historic theme, which remains the basis for El Desfile Historico, the historical parade which today ranks as a centerpiece of Fiesta.
Drawing on a short-lived but successful Primavera celebration a few years earlier, residents were encouraged to dress in costume, another tradition that has endured.
Also on the 1924 docket were a supposed landing at the beach by explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and planes flying low level at oceanside.
A full moon shone on that first Fiesta -- a tradition that has continued. So successful was the 1924 event that Old Spanish Days was officially incorporated the next year with Murphy as the first El Presidente. Becoming an annual affair, the civic party has survived earthquake, drought, fire and war. Through the postwar years, Fiestas drew California governors up to Ronald Reagan.
Today Fiesta has grown into a giant city party with at least vestiges of the original elements that brought it together: Spanish heritage, arts and business.
Also enduring is a spirit defined on the cover of the program for the play which marked the 1924 debut of the Lobero Theatre.
Citing the new celebration, the program concluded, "We hope everyone will enter into the spirit of the occasion and have an enjoyable four days."
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