Recap of Day One of the Victorian Fair of the Far West

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The weather was nearly perfect, clouds in the morning and early afternoon broke and sunshine reigned for most of the period of the first day of the Homestead’s Victorian Fair of the Far West.  Whether or not the record-shattering opening weekend of the Avengers movie was a major factor, attendance was decent, but not what we hoped for.  Still, the hundreds of visitors who came to the museum seemed to enjoy the variety of activities on offer.

The front of the Workman House includes a newly developing rose garden of historic varieties, done in collaboration with the Pacific Rose Society, and, in the background, the stunning “megabloom” of the circa 1860 Lady Banks rose bush, now in its peak of glory.

This included music, dancing, vendors, performers and presenters, pie-eating contest, a range of crafts, historical societies and organizations sharing what they do, house tours and displays and more.  My colleagues spent a great deal of time and effort providing a diverse array of elements to appeal to people of all ages and interests and it appeared to resonate with our guests.

Growth in the demonstration vineyard adjacent to the Workman House has been explosive in recent weeks and portends a bumper crop later in the year.

Not only that, but there is, at the height of spring, a gorgeous backdrop for the fair.  A few photos here show the stunning landscape at the Homestead, such as roses in full bloom (including our new rose garden of Victorian-era varietals developed with the local Pacific Rose Society), flowering buds in profusion on our pomegranate trees, the demonstration vineyard bursting out in recent weeks, and other examples.  Special attention should be paid, while it lasts, to the circa 1860 Lady Banks rose in front of the Workman House, which is at the height of its glory right now.

Roses along the West Lawn of La Casa Nueva are also blooming beautifully right now.

Among the presenters were staff from the Wildlife Waystation, who shared what they do to assist wildlife and brought some of their clients to share with our guests; the snake oil salesman Dr. Malatesta, who hawked his patent medicine and guarantees it would cure all that ails anyone, including “male weakness” and “female complaints”; the Kizh-Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians who reminded us, through tribal representative Tim Poyorena-Miguel’s talk, that they are “right in front of our eyes” in preserving and sharing the history and traditions of our region’s native people; and Dr. Bert Davidson, who gave a fascinating, if somewhat graphic, presentation on the history of such medical techniques (some still practiced, if not be the aforesaid Dr. Malatesta) of bloodletting, leeches, and others purported to cure people of the illnesses.

A close-up view of one of the several dozen pomegranate trees that ring La Casa Nueva with the bright red flowers in great profusion.  If they hold up, there should be a good crop of fruit come this fall.

As the several event preview posts from this blog the past week discussed, a display in the Workman House featured dozens of photographs from the Homestead’s collection showing the development of private and public gardens in greater Los Angeles during the Victorian era.  These were mainly from public parks, such as Westlake, Elysian, Hollenbeck and Eastlake, as well as the gardens of regional residents, from those with working class houses to the wealthiest of local citizens.

It’s still a bit of a shock to see the Pío Pico Memorial Walkway after the dense rows of Chinese elms, planted forty years ago during the site’s restoration, were removed this past winter and replaced by Southern live oaks, which are growing rapidly though it’ll be many years before we see the shade we’d had for years.

We also had quilters, lace makers, Victorian-era bike riding, dance demonstrations from our local namesake Workman High School, demonstrations of adobe making and other handiwork, and fashion shows from longtime Homestead collaborator Natalie Meyer.  Tomorrow’s post will go into some further detail about some of these and other offerings.

Dr. Bert Davidson giving his interesting lecture on such medical techniques as bloodletting and leeches.

So, while we didn’t quite have the attendance we were hoping for, we definitely feel like our guests today had many quality experiences in a broad palette of activities.  One of our presenters, Sarah Chavez, who had a remarkable display at our El Campo Santo Cemetery of Victorian-era artifacts related to death and mourning, remarked that it was really notable how engaged people can be with historic objects and talking to people about what they mean.

Visitors listening to a presentation by staff members of the Wildlife Waystation.

This is a crucial consideration for the Homestead and its diverse menu of programs.  We want our guests to have many choices for what they see, hear and do and we’d also like to make sure that, whenever possible, they can interact with our paid and volunteer staff and contracted presenters and performers so that fundamental human communication about the power of history is fully engaged.

Historical organizations from Long Beach, Los Angeles, La Puente, Hacienda Heights and other local communities share their sites and programs with visitors.

To fulfill our mission statement of “creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles,” the Victorian Fair of the Far West, along with our other programs, strives to make our guests’ experiences fun and educational through engaging quality events.

Crafts and demonstrations were in abundance on the driveway between the Workman House and La Casa Nueva.

Typically, attendance is higher on Sundays than Saturdays and the weather forecast shows temperatures in the low 70s after some patchy fog and occasional drizzling in the morning and partly cloudy in the afternoon.  So, if you’re thinking about joining us tomorrow for our Victorian Fair of the Far West, we hope to see you there, enjoying the many options available for your entertainment and enlightenment!

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