Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Fiesta fixture since 1946 : Judy Pearce has participated in most Old Spanish Days for more than 50 years


August 2, 2009 8:51 AM

One Santa Barbaran is proud to say that this year's Fiesta theme, A Tribute to Tradition, is especially poignant for her because Fiesta has for more than 50 years been her favorite time of year.

"My kids don't have to be here at Christmas, but by golly they have to be here at fiesta!" said Carpinteria resident Judy Pearce.

Mrs. Pearce, 68, first participated in the famed Santa Barbara event in 1946, the first year the festival resumed after World War II. She was 5 at the time.

This year she is providing a dress to be worn by Mrs. Presidente while riding a horse in the parade.

"She came out and picked out a dress I made for one of my daughters," said Mrs. Pearce, who makes a dress for herself every year and has made dresses for her daughters and granddaughters over the years.

"It takes about 17 yards of material to make a big ruffle dress," she said. "Riding dresses, that's what I call them."

Mrs. Pearce laments some of the ways Fiesta has changed over the decades, but she still celebrates the way she wants, with a huge party for her family and friends.

"The house is really a wreck afterwards," she said. "Even at Christmastime, confetti is still oozing out from under the rug."

Surprisingly, Mrs. Pearce said her husband does not share her love of Fiesta.

"My husband doesn't like it at all," she said. "He's only been to one or two, but he's very generous with me."

In fact, an entire room in the Pearce residence is devoted to Fiesta.

"It's all full of posters and dresses," she said.

Mrs. Pearce is a true embodiment of this year's Fiesta theme, which was chosen by El Presidente Anthony Borgatello.

"My mother was a total nut about Fiesta; she was in the very first one," she said. "I was raised that way. It's just plain fun!"

According to the grandmother of six, one of the most exciting traditions in her family is a particular dress that she made in 1966.

"It's a great tradition for my family to wear the gold and white dress," she said. "My daughters have worn it, and my granddaughters have worn it."

A big change Mrs. Pearce has noticed in Fiesta since she has been a regular participant is the reduced level of festive behavior on the part of observers.

"People watching the parade don't wear costumes as much as they used to," she said. "People celebrating used to wear costumes; even if you weren't participating, you'd dress up."

Tourists visiting for the event bring her great delight.

"It was never just for the locals," she said. "It's always been about getting people here; in the '50s it was such a big deal that all the L.A. papers would write about it."

Mrs. Pearce said another change she has observed is the prohibition of drinking on the street.

"I always thank the police officers whenever I see them," she said. "It's great because that way I can take the grandkids downtown."

She said she does miss dancing in the street after dark, however, and the special timing of the event in the past.

"It used to be on the full moon of August," she said nostalgically.

Because Mrs. Pearce's birthday falls on Aug. 5, she feels particularly connected to the event.

"I ride zigzag across the street (during the parade)," she said, "and I tell everyone Santa Barbara is throwing me a celebration."

Fiesta 2009 runs Aug. 5-9, kicking off at De la Guerra Plaza Wednesday when El Mercado de la Guerra opens at 11 a.m.

Events continue through Sunday.

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