iesta! Just the mention of the word brings back a part of my childhood in Santa Barbara. For many children growing up in the shadow of the Queen of the California Missions, Fiesta meant dancing in several parades, on the stage of the Lobero Theatre and on the steps of the Mission itself. Always held during the full moon in August, it was a magical time steeped in history.
Jose Manero was Santa Barbara's internationally known interpreter of Spanish dances. He was responsible for much of the color of Fiesta during the 1950s. His obituary in October 1973 quoted an Old Spanish Days official as saying "Jose, more than anyone, truly exemplified the real spirit of Fiesta." The children and young adults in his classes in a small studio in De La Guerra Plaza were afforded the pleasure of learning how to dance the Spanish and Mexican steps that made the summer festival so distinctive. Once the routines had been choreographed, next came the costume designs. Jose's dance partner for many years, Paquita del Rey, had the creative responsibility in that area.
The photo I have chosen to share was taken by my father, William Azbell, at the wishing well that was located behind the former Presidio Restaurant, off De la Guerra Street. The vessel was used in the early centuries during the rise of Christianity as a baptismal font in Southern Italy. Visitors to the well would throw coins into the water and those coins helped to fund worthy causes of the Community Chest. The photo is truly a bit of history, as the wishing well is no longer there. The costume was made by my mother of bright chartreuse satin and the headpiece (made by my father) depicted the Tehuantepec region of Mexico. My parents were so proud of this photo, it became our Christmas greeting that year.
History abounds wherever one's roots are. For those of us blessed with the privilege of growing up in Santa Barbara, the full moon of August will always be a part of our memories.
Viva la Fiesta!
Shelley (Azbell) Redford
t was Thursday and my mother and I were standing in front of Ott's waiting for the Fiesta parade to reach us. At 4 years old, my excitement was more for the anticipation of my first job, which I was to start that very evening, than the festivities that surrounded me; though I must admit it was exciting when my mother's cousin, Leo Carrillo, rode his horse to where we were standing just to say hello.
After the parade my mother and I stopped at her Uncle Maldo's magic shop in El Paseo. He gave me a magic trick I still remember to this day. It was an orange plastic "shell game." Afterward we made our way over to his restaurant, Maldo's El Charro on the corner of Canon Perdido and Santa Barbara streets, where I was to begin working.
Fiesta week at the restaurant was like an annual family reunion with everyone helping Tia Nena in the kitchen. My job was to clear the beer bottles from the tables. For my hard work I was to receive one penny for every empty bottle.
I performed my duties with a vengeance. I was going to be rich. I told all the dinner guests about my job and they let me take their bottles before they were finished with the beer. They even ordered more beers so I could earn more money.
My 4-year-old logic decided that since I got one cent for every EMPTY bottle I would have to find some way to get rid of the liquid left inside the bottles. (I still like beer!) I made a lot of trips from the dining room to the closet where I put the empty bottles to be counted.
There were a lot of smiling faces, bright colors and loud music in the restaurant that night. What I remember most was waking up to the laughter of family members relieved to have found the object of their frantic search, asleep/passed out in a closet full of empty beer bottles.
Cecelia Alcasas Munoz
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