Since 1952, the Capitola Begonia Festival has been a cherished community event, heralding the end of summer as well as a longstanding tradition. 2017 celebrates the festival’s 65th and final year as Golden State Bulb Growers, the only source of begonias in the area, is ceasing production.
Capitola was once an abundant source of begonias and was the brainchild of champion swimmer, Peggy Slatter Matthews, who moved to Capitola in the late 1940’s to care for her father. Capitola was newly incorporated and Matthews, who became the town’s first woman city council member, made it her mission to “ increase the popularity of Capitola and bring more people to the local beach.” Serving only a year in office before leaving to take a position at the University of Mexico, she upheld her promise to bring recreation to Capitola. Her legacy, originally called the Capitola Water Fantasy, morphed into the Begonia Festival.
According to the Capitola Historical Museum, “the idea of an aquacade water show at Capitola was the natural outcome of Matthew’s knowledge of synchronized swimming and her desire to “create a better beach.” She designed the first show as both a daytime and evening performance, held under floodlights in September of 1950. Swim races for boys and girls, an around-the-pier contest, a Begonia trimmed boat parade and a water ballet were featured attractions. The Labor Day carnival was the first water event to take place in Capitola in 28 years” and was instantly popular.
Two years later, a dozen barges trimmed with begonias were judged in the two and a half hour aquacade, which was culminated by a spectacular “fire dive” stunt performed by “the Mighty Bosco,” Don Patterson. To the amazement and delight of spectators, a flaming Patterson leapt from the bridge over the lagoon. This same daring stunt dive had been performed more than 300 times over 25 years at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, but this was a first for Capitola.
One final Capitola Water Fantasy carnival was held in 1954 prior to Matthew’s departure. Featuring “15 acts of grace, comedy and thrills,” the parade included 14 floats bedecked with begonias, signaling the inception of the Capitola Begonia Festival, six of which were towed through Soquel Creek by swimmers of Matthew’s Santa Cruz Athletic Club.
Fast-forward 65 years, and the Capitol Begonia Festival has grown in popularity among residents and tourists alike, becoming an iconic community event. Coordinated entirely by a team volunteers, the 4-day event takes place during Labor Day weekend when attendee enjoy the uniquely colorful experience celebrating the town’s begonia growing and water festival history.
A delightful experience for all ages, the festival includes a variety of events that invite attendee participation. A fishing derby, rowboat races, sand sculpture contest, Horseshoe tournament, live music, and movies on the beach are just a few of the weekend’s activities. Stroll along Soquel Creek and watch builders add the finishing touches to their floral floats. Or, gather a team and build your own bloom-covered float (LINK: http://www.begoniafestival.com/float_entry.html) to enter into the parade. All of the begonias are being provided by the Golden State Bulb Growers based in Marina. The company is providing the flowers especially for this finale festival event.
“Begonias Take a Bow!” is the 2017 festival’s final theme, honoring the integral part begonias have played in the Capitola Begonia Festival since inception. A special commemorative event will be held in October to memorialize the festival’s illustrious history.
For more information:
Capitola Begonia Festival
Friday September 1st through Monday, September 4th
Admission is free
Visitor, parking information and map of event
Entry forms for parade floats and horseshoe tournaments
Festival Facebook page