Friday, September 27, 2013

Casa de la Guerra

Ever since reading Richard Dana's account of a wedding at Casa de la Guerra, an historical adobe in downtown Santa Barbara, I have wanted to revisit this national treasure.  I got a kick out of the diluted version recounted in the museum.  In Dana's book, Two Years Before the Mast, the venerable Don Jose de la Guerra and his friends and family were not painted in such illustrious light.

They looked as grave as they were going through some religious ceremony, their faces as little excited as their limbs; and on the whole, instead of the spirited, fascinating Spanish dances which I had expected, I found the Californian fandango, on the part of the women at least, a lifeless affair.

Having lived in Santa Barbara for twenty-five years now, I know, first hand, the fiestas surrounding Old Spanish Days, are far from lifeless.  But back in the 1830's, Don Jose Antonio Julian de la Guerra y Noriega was the most powerful man in the pueblo.  He was both feared and respected.  He came from noble lineage in Spain and married into a wealthy family.  As a military man, he was posted to the California frontier and became a commandant of the Santa Barbara Presidio.  And so, Dana further writes:

Here, too, Don Juan figured greatly, waltzing with the sister of the bride, (Donna Angustia, a handsome woman and a general favorite,) in a variety of beautiful, but, to me, offensive figures, which lasted as much as half an hour, no one else taking the floor.  They were repeatedly and loudly applauded, the old men and women jumping out of their seats in admiration, and the young people waving their hats and handkerchiefs.

He goes on to write about the pranks he saw, and the joy of watching the younger generation as they take to the dance floor.  It is an honest narrative from a Yankee sailor who is visiting a foreign land--the coast of Alta California.

This beautiful and rare 13-room adobe was the home of the de la Guerra family from 1828 until 1943.  It is now undergoing renovation and will eventually be an historic house museum, an authentic replica of the original adobe as it was when the commandant lived here.  Over the years it has been remodeled and updated many times.  Currently, the rooms are slowly "coming together".  Many of them simply hold exhibits like the Santos Room.  It will surely be the pride and glory of our town when it is finally completed.

If you happen to be in Santa Barbara, go to the Presidio first.  Included with the price of a ticket is entrance to Casa de la Guerra.  There's a glitch, though.  The Casa is only open on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, so plan accordingly.  Hopefully, this will change in the future.

In the 1920's a shopping complex, El Paseo, was built surrounding the adobe.  El Paseo Nuevo, a newer mall, is now across the street.  History, shopping, great restaurants and a nostalgic peak inside a home of one of Santa Barbara's founding families, is exactly what we travelers crave.

And it's all right here.

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