by Paul R. Spitzzeri
This year’s Los Angeles County Fair, which began on the last day of August, ends tomorrow, and cooler weather than last year will probably lead to more visitors than last year’s tally of 1.23 million. The event has evolved considerably over its 96-year history, when the first fair was held in 1922 over five days in October.
The fair came together because of efforts from Pomona business leaders, who purchased a 43-acre property from a beet farmer, incorporated as the Los Angeles County Fair Association and, apparently, secured some funding from a wary Board of Supervisors to assist with the effort. At a total cost of $63,000, the inaugural fair drew some 50,000 attendees and operated, more or less, like a traditional event focusing on agricultural, animal husbandry, the “household arts” and the like.
By the end of the 1920s, the fair grew in scope and scale, permanent structures were added to the grounds, a fair queen was introduced, and attendance topped 250,000. Another key early component, not as emphasized in recent decades, was on horse events.
At the time, this seemed an obvious point of focus, as horse breeding was being done throughout greater Los Angeles, especially in those rural hinterlands of the San Fernando Valley, San Gabriel Valley, Orange County and Inland Empire. The most famous of these was the enterprise of cereal magnate W. K. Kellogg, whose large ranch at the western edge of Pomona, very near the fairgrounds, also happened to be partially located within the northeastern extremity of Rancho La Puente. Kellogg’s ranch is now the campus of Cal Poly Pomona.
There were many other notable horse-breeders, however, including in nearby Chino and what is now Chino Hills. One example was Revel English, who had stables in two locations in that area and bred many fine championship saddle horses. English displayed his champion “Edna May’s King” on one day of the fair. In Los Angeles, Marco H. Hellman, from a prominent banking family, was a successful horse breeder, and his daughter Marcoreta (born Marguerite) also had her own animals.
Some of the Hollywood film community were involved in the line, too, including Cecilia de Mille, daughter of the famed producer and director Cecil B. DeMille (yes, the names were spelled slightly differently.) Other notable examples were Laureta Lugo and Antonio E. Yorba, descendants of prominent Californio families whose horse-raising and riding skills were part of a culture embedded in Californio life.
Today’s post highlights a souvenir program, from the Homestead’s collection, for the horse events at the 1929 county fair. The 56-page publication has a striking and colorful front cover with an Egyptian motif popular during the era, especially the earlier years of the decade when King Tut’s tomb was discovered in 1922. At the center and bathed in a striking orange background is a photo of Kellogg’s 1928 fair champion Arabian stallion “Antez.”
The program for the six days of the fair included events from when the gates opened at 10 a.m. to the start of the the horse show program at 7:30 p.m. and included special days for various groups. For example, the first day was “Lion’s Day,” in which all students under 12 got in free if they lived in nearby communities from Baldwin Park on the west to Ontario in the east (including the little town of Puente near the Homestead.) There was also an All Clubs ‘ Day for anyone who was a member of a club, an All Counties Day, and, on the final day, the 22nd, the mayor of Los Angeles, George Cryer (completing his eight-year tenure) and the city council, including its president Boyle Workman (grand-nephew of Homestead founders William and Nicolasa Workman) were honored guests.
Concerts, vaudeville performances, fireworks, a livestock parade, and other events were held, along with horse races and the nightly horse show. In all, there were 221 entrant horses from over 50 exhibitors. Not surprisingly, there were some exhibitors who entered one or a small number of animals and those who brought many horses. Among the larger exhibitors were the more corporate entities, such as Bridgford Brothers of Joy, Illinois in the western part of the state near Iowa; Carnation Farms Stable, which was adjacent to the fairgrounds; and the Aaron M. Franks Farms of Portland, Oregon.
Individuals with multiple entries included Kellogg; Cecilia de Mille; Marcoreta Hellman; Alice and Marjorie Marston of San Diego; Mrs. Harry Goelitz of suburban Chicago; Ben Meyer of Los Angeles; and E.G. Stinson of Orange. As noted, there were many who entered one or two animals, including Lugo, Yorba, Marco Hellman; and Mrs. E W. Scripps, a noted name, like Marston, from San Diego.
The evening show events lasted between two-and-a-half and three hours with a great many categories, such as saddle, hunter, draft, pairs, ponies, jumper and stock horses. Height was one delimiter of many of the categories and some events were by singles, pairs or larger groupings (four-in-hand or six-in-hand draft horses, for example.)
While many of the prizes were in the range of $40-60 for first prize winners, there were special stakes sponsored by Kellogg; Marco Hellman’s brother Irving; Fred Bixby of another longtime regional family; the Los Angeles National Horse Shows, Inc.; the First National Bank of Pomona; Carnation Farms, and others that had payouts from $150-250 for first place. Hellman donated $500 to the Pomona Community Chest, a local charity, for a judging contest in which audience members determined the best of Hellman’s stock horses.
Naturally, advertisements to pay for the costs of the publication are numerous. One for Kellogg’s “Arabian Horse Ranch” not only features photos of some of his prize animals, but most are with famed women film starts Clara Bow, Laura La Plante, Dorothy Sebastian, and Lois Wilson (were there no male equestrians among the film set?). Another featured Marcoreta Hellman astride Arab, one of the many horses “in the parade of stock horses . . . led by her father, Marco H. Hellman.” Marcoreta had a bit of a film career appeared uncredited in a number of films and one credited part in the 1950s.
Otherwise, most of the ads are pretty mundane and typically are are from laundry firms; fruit pesticide companies; lumber companies; clothiers; industrial firms of various kinds; oil and gas firms; restaurants; and so on. Many were from Pomona and others from nearby areas. A few were equestrian related, including saddle makers, boot sellers, and a Sierra Madre stable. One that stands out reads “Compliments of the Japanese Produce Merchant’s Association of Los Angeles,” and is the only advertisement from an ethnic group, one that experienced significant discrimination in the region and state during preceding decades.
This program is an interesting document providing insight into how pervasive horse breeding was in greater Los Angeles and how integral it was to the Los Angeles County Fair during its early years, when the region was still largely rural. Obviously, in the post-World War II period the suburban transformation of much of the area meant a vast reduction in horse breeding paralleling a change in the nature of the fair.