THE STORIED HISTORY OF SDES
SDES ALVARADO HISTORY
The Sociedade do Divino Espirito Santo de Alvarado is an independent Portuguese fraternal Society, known as SDES of Alvarado. It was formally organized in April of 1926 with a membership of forty local Portuguese men. The organization has increased throughout the years to a membership of over 500 members. The members are residents of Union City, Fremont, Newark and many neighboring cities in the Bay Area who share the devotion to the Holy Ghost and the Portuguese culture. SDES Alvarado, was later incorporated in 1959 as part of Union City. With a history of its own, the name originated from the then Governor Don Juan B. Alvarado in 1836. In 1926, almost one hundred years later, a small chapel was built by a group of local Portuguese celebrating the first Holy Ghost Festa.
The chapel where the first religious celebration of the festa was held was located behind St. Anne’s Mission Church. It was constructed of lumber from the original St. Anne’s, built in 1862, one of the oldest structures in Washington Township at that time. In 1925, the second St. Anne’s Mission Church replaced the original structure, which was located on the corners of Smith and Watkins Street, and was dedicated on March 7, 1926. This Spanish mission style church was one of the finest examples of rural church architecture to be found in California.
Tony Mello was assumed to be the first President of the Holy Ghost Festa of Alvarado. It was held in May of 1926, with Hazel Rodrick as first queen. Festas have been held in Alvarado every year up to the present time. Though some of the mid-years have been lean, the Alvarado festa has grown to be one of the largest in the Bay Area.
The SDES Alvarado Holy Ghost Festa is traditionally one of the forst of the "festa season" which is held on the 4th Sunday after Easter. The traditional religious and social activities are observed as in past years. Mass was always celebrated at St. Anne’s Catholic Church until it could no longer accommodate the larger number in attendance. The mass continued for a few years in the present St. Anne’s Church, relocated on Dyer Street. However, since 1984, the mass has been celebrated at the Holy Community Center.
In 1927, the SDES purchased the property, where is presently located, on Watkins Street. It originally had been a baseball field where many fans came to cheer on well-known local teams. At that time they constructed a hall, a chapel, and an area for servicing sopas, which was replaced with new buildings in the last few years.
The existing large dining hall was dedicated in 1993 and includes a larger modern kitchen. The first kitchens were very modest, first a portable and then an old school building that was moved onto the property. It was there that Elvin Rose, now 83, cooked sopas for 40years. During those early years, sopas were served in a covered, outdoor fenced-in area.
On the Saturday night of the festa, there was a spectacular fireworks display. For safety reasons the fireworks were terminated in the 1950’s. There was also a large carnival with many attractions, one of which was the boxing exhibition. The boxers would challenge the local men to come up and try their boxing skills in a few rounds. One of their challengers was Domingos Valim, whom they didn’t t now know as a well-known local boxer. He knocked the carnival boxer out in no time.
Auctions were also a big attraction, with fresh fruit and vegetables that were grown locally. Hundreds of pounds of inhames (taro roots) were brought to make up the favorite seller, the platter of inhames, linguica and bananas; homemade cakes were also very popular. In the early years, local farmers and ranchers donated the live poultry and livestock.
The queen and her court of the early years were daughters of the SDES officers. In recent years, queens have been selected by these officers: the president names the senior queen, the vice president names the middle queen and the marshal names the baby queen. During the earliest years, queens borrowed capes and head pieces from other organizations. Now, each queen is given a stipend to assist with the cost of capes. Each of these queens represents the SES at other Festas throughout the year. A number of queens have had the benefit of religious explanation and meaning of the symbolism used at the festa from the local Portuguese priest. Queens have also traveled to Costa da Caparica in Portugal and East Providence in Rhode Island to represent this festa.
In 2001, the 75th anniversary queen carried the original crown in the parade for the last time. The crow has been retired because of its delicate state and fragile conditions; it is on display in the chapel of the society.
By Antonio P. Goulart
“The Holy Ghost Festas”
A Historic Perspective of the Portuguese in California