A Fair to Remember

Thousands of people will attend the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona, where they can get lost in rides, petting zoos, concerts, games, and the over-consumption of deep-fried foods. Despite the layers of entertainment and food, the true goal of the Fair is to educate the masses, just like fairs in the past had done.

Before the Los Angeles County Fair first opened in October of 1922, there were exhibitions at Agricultural Park, now known as Exposition Park, during the 1870s. The 160-acre site consisted of a racetrack and a fairground for agriculturally-focused exhibitions. During the beginning of the twentieth century, the use of the land changed and soon became home to cultural institutions. The destination to gather and view the bounty of regional farm goods soon shifted to Pomona, California.

The founders of the County Fair had a similar vision: to educate the community about regional agriculture while providing entertainment. The grand opening was a tremendous success and surpassed expectations with attendance reaching over 40,000. Fairgoers enjoyed elaborate displays of locally-grown fruit, livestock exhibits, horse racing, contests, and even sky rockets. As time passed and the Fair’s popularity grew, it expanded its days of operation and incorporated jewelry and craft shopping. The educational component also increased, with exhibits that showcased events in history, science, and agriculture statewide. Even during the Depression, the Fair continued on, though with slightly lower attendance. New buildings, some of which served as exhibition areas, were erected through programs like the Works Project Administration (WPA).

During World War II, the grounds saw further change. Executive Order 9066, issued by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1942, ordered the relocation of Japanese Americans to internment camps in several states. A portion of the fairgrounds served as a temporary detention center before internees were sent to more permanent internment camps. Other areas of the site held prisoners of war and a military base.

The postwar period brought more change and expansion in what the Fair offered. Exhibit themes were influenced by the improving United States economy and included such topics as wine tasting and floral trends on an international scale. The founder’s initial goal to educate visitors about local farm products and sustainable living was not completely forgotten and is still present in some of the Fair’s exhibits, learning centers, and hands-on activities. While the Fair today may provide its attendees a few hours of respite and amusement, its history—more than a century old—should not be forgotten. Rather, it should be embraced and remembered while chowing down on the deep-fried Snickers bar or winning a stuffed animal.

Special thanks to Collections Coordinator Michelle Villarreal for contributing this post and making us want all sorts of deep-fried goodies!

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