The Fiesta La Ballona Days began in 1951 as a weeklong celebration of the Early Settlers, with events geared for all segments of the community. Everyone wanted to be an Indian (politically correct at the time), ranchero, señorita, cowboy or cowgirl! The early fiestas served to evoke pride in family heritage for some, and an opportunity to feel like an early settler for others.
Recollections from Clarita Marquez Young, descendent
"The early Fiestas began in the early 1950s. Their purpose was to celebrate the Spanish First families, at the time of New Spain, Mexico and into the time this was the U.S. I never missed a Fiesta. They were like the spice of my life! I rode in the parade, and so did my mother, Senaida Ybarra, and grandmother, Maria Jesus Ybarra. The mother of my nana was born in Spain."
Clarita wore beautifully detailed Spanish costumes, and mantillas to match. She said she had thirteen costumes, some of which she made herself. Her favorite was the red one, which was trimmed in black lace. Clarita worked hard to educate the community about the early settlers. She is a member of the Beverly Hills Parlor of the Native Daughters of the Golden West, which placed the marker on the colonnade of M.G.M. She was also a founding member, later named Madrina (godmother) of the Culver City Historical Society.
Recollections from Julie Lugo Cerra, Honorary Culver City Historian
"My dad's family was descended from Francisco Salvador Lugo, one of the soldados at the 1781 founding of the pueblo of Los Angeles. The Lugos arrived in this area in the 1800s. I remember the Lugo ranch house, at Cota and Jefferson, watching the flour fly as Auntie Vicenta made tortillas on the old woodburning stove.
The parades are most vividly etched in my memory. Floats, marching bands, scout troops, and mounted horsemen in festive costumes moved down the boulevards to lively music. The Fiesta Queen rode with her court, and other floats included the Downtown Merchants Association and clubs.
Because the Fiesta was established to honor local history, descendents of the old families were privileged to ride in the parade. In the first parades, we rode in horse-drawn buggies, identified with ancestral names. There were the Machados, Talamantes, Higueras, Ybarras, Saenz, Rochas, and Lugos.
Uncle George, Auntie Vicenta and Julie in the horse and buggy; Doreen and Julie below.
Ella Chevront, an Higuera, always dressed in Spanish costume. My Auntie Vicenta (Lugo) made her own traditional dress, and wore my grandmother's ornate comb to hold her black lace mantilla. She carried a lace fan and castanets. My blue-eyed Southern mom sewed my many-layered Spanish costumes and a variety of outfits for my little brother, Carlos. We rode with Auntie, sometimes Uncle George, and cousins, Doreen and Mike Lugo. We were prodded to wave to the crowds watching from the curbs, a minor embarrassment as we spotted friends furiously waving back.
Perhaps most authentic, was Clarita Marquez Young, a Native Daughter of the Golden West, who always stood out in her beautiful costumes and perfect black hair. Clarita became the "Madrina" (godmother) of the CC Historical Society, since her interest in local heritage led to the its origin in 1980. Eventually the fringed buggies were replaced with antique cars. My dad, Charlie Lugo, attended to his police duties, often outfitted in Cesar Romero's Spanish costumes on loan from MGM.
Those were not the only parades. On Saturday there was a "Kiddie Parade" at Vet's Park. Parents made "floats" from wagon bases and kids in costume pulled these decorated tributes to our parents' creativity through the park. One year we had "Mamacita's Tamale and Tortilla Wagon," and since I was the oldest, I got to pull. It was fine until the year my mom dressed me as a boy. I still don't think I look great in a mustache!
One of the nights, there was an Aquacade at the Plunge. Synchronized swimming, clowns, and water ballet thrilled the cheering spectators. My brother's favorite one was the year they swam through flaming ice. But then, he was the one who got the biggest jolt out of the street sweepers cleaning up after the horses, too! Other nights offered a Barbecue, a Square Dance, and a Teen Hop. A Thieves' Market at Culver Center benefited charity.
There was a Queen's luncheon, a hobby show in the Armory, and an antique car show, too. One day of that week, generally Friday, everyone was expected to "dress." That was the day the "pokey" drove around town, and those without costumes were "arrested" and given a ride in this jail on wheels. One who always made me smile was the manager of the water company, Firley Cleveland, dressed in monk's robes!"
As the community changed, the Fiesta changed. In 1985, Gus Prado was sitting on what is now the Human Services Commission, when they decided to reinvent the fiesta into a "Festival of the People." The one-day event centered at Vet's Park, had a parade and took on an International emphasis, complete with food and dancing. That format lasted five or six years, according to Gus. It then was reinvented to become a weekend Fiesta in May, chaired by Reba Yudess.