It all started with a sinkhole.
A massive opening in the road a dozen years ago turned neighborhoods around West Speedway Boulevard into a sewer. Literally.
Sewage from a sinkhole on Speedway spewed into the Santa Cruz River, shutting down area businesses and homes because of the smell. People soon moved back into their houses, but the stores that called Barrio Hollywood home suddenly had far fewer people coming by.
Longtime Barrio Hollywood resident Margaret McKenna saw what was happening to her neighborhood, but instead of sitting back and letting its already tarnished reputation take another major hit, she decided it was time to fight back. And thus was born the Fiesta Grande Street Fair, which this weekend marks its 12th anniversary.
"I always wanted to have something on the westside because we've always gotten a bad rap," said McKenna, a sixth-generation resident of the neighborhood that is bounded by Speedway to the north, St. Mary's Road to the south, Silverbell Road to the west and the Santa Cruz River to the east. "People look forward to it; people love it. It has brought the community together. I think it has made a real impact in Barrio Hollywood."
Starting with a parade Saturday morning led by American Legion members, the two-day Fiesta Grande will feature a car show, live Tejano music from the likes of Hollywood Knights, Conjunto Fear and Mariachi Tesoro, and a carnival midway with numerous rides. Food vendors from nearby businesses as well as others from throughout the city will be cooking and serving all day.
Fiesta Grande has the feeling of a neighborhood block party, but it's open to everyone. McKenna said it was created to get people to come into Barrio Hollywood, and now it's what keeps them coming back year after year.
"It's like a reunion," said McKenna, who was president of Barrio Hollywood's neighborhood association for decades until last year. "It doesn't matter what part of town you live, or move to. When you come to Barrio Hollywood, they remember you. It's like coming home."
Barrio Hollywood is one of those neighborhoods that has a reputation bred from census data and crime blotters, from newspaper clippings and local TV live shots following a homicide. It's a place McKenna said people are afraid to go to, but only because they've been made to believe it's a scary place.
She recalls a co-worker, an avid photographer who was interested in coming to Fiesta Grande to take some pictures several years ago. However, he was wary of how a Caucasian would get treated in a Chicano (her word) neighborhood.
She said she told him, "It's OK, we'll have a little sign on you that says, 'Don't Kill the White Man.'"
That was seven years ago, and McKenna's co-worker has been back every year since.
Fiesta Grande gets a little bigger each year, but it still sticks mostly to Grande Avenue, which is shut down for the weekend. But sometimes the party spills onto nearby streets as friends and family gather to reminisce. There's a police presence at the street fair, but McKenna said that nowadays it's mostly for show.
When Fiesta Grande first started, city officials required the festival to have more law enforcement on hand, McKenna said, and insurance costs for the event bordered on the exorbitant. But as people discover that Barrio Hollywood isn't as bad as it's described by the uninformed, the cost has gone down.
Still, the neighborhood association just barely scrapes together enough money to put on the event each year. McKenna said she once toyed with holding Fiesta Grande at Casino del Sol—she's a member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe —but community members wouldn't hear of it. They wanted it to stay in the barrio.
"Everyone is taking pride in the ownership of this," she said. "What we're doing here is community building. If you come to the event you will see."
The Fiesta Grande Street Fair is held along Grande Avenue, between Speedway Boulevard and St. Mary's Road. It runs from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 26, and from noon to 7 p.m. on Sunday, April 27. Admission is free. For more info: 331-9555 or fiestagrandeaz.com.