“Six Wonderful Days and Nights in a Glorious Spanish Setting”: The 7th Annual Los Angeles County Fair in The Southern California Tourist Magazine, September 1928

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

While it appears to have only existed for a few years in the last half of the 1920s, The Southern California Tourist, a monthly publication issued by The Southern California Tourist Information Bureaus, Inc., contained some interesting material regarding local events, places to visit and, naturally, advertising opportunities for local businesses. The Museum’s collection has nine editions of the magazine, with a prior post here focusing on one of them from August 1927, and this post looks at the September 1928 issue, stamped with the American Express Travel Bureau location at Bullock’s department store, with its feature being the seventh annual Los Angeles County Fair.

The Tourist Information Bureaus organization lasted from 1926-1935 and had an early association with the Los Angeles Illustrated Daily News, with both entities having office space in The Arcade Building, a remarkable complex with a pair of height-limit (12 story) office buildings facing onto Spring Street and Broadway, respectively, and between 5th and 6th streets, connected by an arcade more than 800 feet long. This latter was styled after a London example and which covered what was, from 1904 to 1923, Mercantile Place, a shop-lined alley between the main downtown thoroughfares established on a former public school site.

In addition to its main office in the Arcade Building, the Tourist Information Bureaus maintained branches in Glendale, La Jolla (near San Diego), Long Beach (there were two), Pasadena and San Diego (which also had two), while it was distributed on steamships, news stands, auto and bus stages, “leading hotels and apartment houses,” and the offices of the Pickwick Stage Company, the Pacific Electric Railway, and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, as well as “by mail to all parts of the United States.”

Not surprisingly, the cover advertisements included the Arcade Building and the Illustrated Daily News along with the major real estate development firm, The Frank Meline Company. There were, though, ads from all over southern California from San Diego to Atascadero and Paso Robles. Some of the more notable ones including KMIC, an Inglewood radio station; the Austin family’s Switzer-land resort in the San Gabriel Mountains above Pasadena; the Pacific Electric’s very popular Mt. Lowe trip; Catalina Island; and the Porter Milk Diet Sanitarium at Palms, near Culver City.

Another article of note is “Los Angeles Today” which provides the typical breathless boosterism that marked the persistent and pervasive promotional efforts of the very powerful Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, including the opening:

Census figures show that one out of every three people who have settled west of the Rocky Mountains during the past ten years, has settled in Los Angeles County. The explanation of this unprecedented flow of population to one portion of the country is apparent; they are in search of human happiness.

The county, deemed “an Empire within itself,” was not just the nation’s largest agricultural producing county, but “has achieved world prominence as a manufacturing center and as a world port,” while “it combines in happy proportions, opportunities to play, to work, and to enjoy life.” There was an interesting geological invention of “three mighty steps or terraces,” comprising the coastal plain; the San Fernando Valley (said to have been “a desert before the Los Angeles aqueduct transformed it into a veritable garden spot”), surrounded by mountains “encircling the valley like the rim of a gigantic chalice;” and the Antelope Valley and part of the Mojave Desert.

Pomona Progress-Bulletin, 18 September 1928,

Left out entirely is the San Gabriel Valley, which, prior to the aqueduct’s completion in 1913, was where much of the county’s ranching and agricultural focus was and, even in 1928, it was the citrus and farming belt that drove much of the regional economy. Yet, the scribe who penned this description thought it more apt to mention the Sierra Nevada Mountains, far to the north, valuable as it was and remains for tourism, than even provide much more about a large section of the county being celebrated than a mere recitation of San Gabriel Valley communities. Even then, it was said that such places as Pomona, Pico [Rivera], Clearwater and Hynes (Paramount, next to Long Beach), and Whittier were within the valley!

As for the Tourist Information Bureau’s “Suggestions for the Visitor: What to See, Where to Go, What to Do” section, the trips included ones in Los Angeles and to Orange County, Mt. Lowe, the Orange Empire, Pasadena, Hollywood and Beverly Hills, Riverside, San Diego and Tijuana, and others. All but the last were single-day excursions, with fares ranging from $1 for the city trip to $12 for the two-day visit to San Diego and Tijuana. A separate section concerned the California missions, with photos of San Juan Capistrano and “quaint” San Gabriel, as well as information on air passenger service recently inaugurated by Western Air Express, and a list of golf courses from Atascadero to San Diego.

Also of note is a list of “Los Angeles’ Popular Theatres,” including almost three dozen, along with brief descriptions of city parks, including Pershing Square, Westlake, Echo, Exposition (with the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art separately denoted), but nothing said of the historic Plaza. As to beaches, Hermosa, Manhattan, Redondo, Santa Monica and Venice were also summarized, with the last stated as “Los Angeles’ beach,” being annexed to the city in 1925, while Seal Beach, Newport and Balboa in Orange County were mentioned, as well.

Naturally, given the focus on the fair, there were a great many advertisements from its host city of Pomona including hotels, lumber merchants, hardware and paint stores and others. Two main ones were from the First National Bank and the city’s chamber of commerce, with the former observing that the “City of Contentment” sat “cradled in the lap of Old Baldy,” or Mount San Antonio, and “is the center of the great citrus belt.” It added that 12,000 cars of citrus, grown on almost 30,000 acres, were shipped out of the area each year from 29 packing houses and four exchanges with gross revenues of $15 million.

There were “25,000 happy and contented people” in Pomona because of superior living conditions and a high rate of house ownership, while it was claimed “the growth of Pomona has been steady, no boom[s] . . .” That population increase included 10% annual growth over the prior seven years, while there were not only opportunities “to the young man starting in life, full of strength, and vigor, full of enthusiasm,” but that “Pomona offers a haven of rest to those who are nearing the sunset of life.” Water, gas, electricity and telephone service; transportation; industries that were growing, if secondary to citrus; social life and commerce were also emphasized, so that “Pomona is indeed a ‘Place where you’d like to live.'”

As for the chamber, it noted that there were three transcontinental railroads (the Santa Fe, Southern Pacific and Santa Fe) that serviced Pomona and that it was also connected with the Pacific Electric system, while “from this city radiate paved boulevards—a network of thoroughfares.” It echoed the bank by proudly noting that “the wonderful Pomona Valley is famed for the fine quality of its oranges and lemons,” while there were other crops grown, as well. The community of its estimate of 23,000 denizens had an assessed valuation of $22 million, and three banks and two building and loan associations with assets north of $12 million, along with 17 schools, 35 churches, 11 factories and other enterprises with an “annual trade turnover” of some $230 million.

Progress-Bulletin, 18 September 1928.

With regards to the “Greatest County Fair in America—At Pomona,” it as noted that the six-day event, held from the 18th through the 23rd, was such that “representing as it does the richest agricultural and horticultural county in the world, [it] will offer a number and variety of products in these departments such as have never been seen before throughout the country.” Beyond this, a component also spotlighted commerce and industry of the prior year “covering practically every line of endeavor from heavy machinery to the smallest household contrivances.”

Also emphasized was the “astonishing growth” experienced since the fair debuted in 1922, including expansion of the grounds to 107 acres from the original 43 ( the complex, now known as Fairplex, is 543) with a half-million square feet of exhibit space under 25 massive tens and a few small structures. It was observed that this was the first year to have an open Sunday and among the program elements for the Sabbath was “a million dollar stock parade,” while “the decorations will eclipse all previous efforts and the interior of the exhibit halls will be gorgeous in their medleys of color carrying out the old Spanish motif.” Spanish, being more European-sounding, was preferred over Mexican—in any case, romanticized imagery was far more about atmosphere and much less about history.

A carnival atmosphere with “thrilling free entertainment” and half-mile horse racing, along with a “brilliant horse show” that “has won the distinction of bring the most beautiful horse show in the nation” with more than 200 purebred steeds was also promoted. Prizes totaling $75,000 were to be awarded among 2,000 contests in many departments, making the purse second in California only to the state fair. It was proclaimed,

The fair, in reality, offers a panorama of southland achievement. In addition to the feature displays entered by counties, cities and farm bureau districts throughout the state and the horticultural and agricultural exhibits, there will be seen one of the largest collections of blooded livestock ever assembled in the south. Other departments include a poultry show, which will be the largest west of the Rockies this year, a complete automobile show, domestic arts covering many phases of women’s endeavor, flower show, junior fair, rare art exhibit, great industrial department, big midway carnival, band concerts and other features too numerous to mention.

The program included designated special days for all but the concluding Sunday, including Governor’s and School Children’s Day on the opening one; Pomona and San Gabriel Valley Day on the second; Santa Monica and Bay District Day on Thursday; a broad one for the counties of Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino along with the city of Long Beach on Friday; and, on Saturday, Los Angeles, San Fernando and Antelope Valley Day.

The opening day also included the groundbreaking ceremonies, presided over by Governor C.C. Young, for the $160,000 Exposition Building. Horse races and the evening horse show were daily features, as were concerts (including sacred ones on Sunday) and fireworks, while the exhibits and stables opened at 10 each morning. The last day included that “million dollar livestock parade at 1:30 instead of horse races in front of the grandstand, while “special entertainment” was to follow.

Concerning the fair, the Pomona Progress-Bulletin, as it should have, played up its biggest annual spotlight to the hilt, providing a special fair edition, which proclaimed that “Decorations Transform Tent Into Big Adobe Mansion.” It continued that “the decorative scheme . . . is Spanish-Californian,” whatever that means, “carrying one back to those halcyon days when Don Ricardo Vejar and Don Ygnacio Palomares,” co-owners of the Rancho San José, embracing Pomona and nearby areas and adjacent to John Rowland and William Workman and their Rancho La Puente, “were kings of this great inland empire.”

Progress-Bulletin, 18 September 1928.

It claimed that entering the main tent was “suggestive of one’s dreams of some immense old adobe mansion of the early days” with beamed ceilings, a red tile roof, and a wall with “the adobe plaster knocked off or worn away to reveal the crude brick made by Mission Indians,” and other affectations “set in a profusion of typical subtropical palms and shrubbery.” There effect was such that no apparatus of tent construction could be seen so that “the illusion is complete and altogether enchanting.”

Designers and builders were praised for completing the work began the day after Independence Day and it was noted that the three previous fair themes were based on Arabian nights, Japan and China, and Dutch sources. What was in store for 1929 and the completion of the 108,000 square-foot $160,000 reinforced concrete (without columns or pillars, steel arches being used to support the roof) exhibition building soon to be built was to remain a secret for the time being. Also mentioned was the recently completed administration building, which cost $10,000.

Progress-Bulletin, 24 September 1928.

A separate article on the history of the fair noted the change from the original 40 acres, acquired for $40,000 and the 83 days to construct everything needed for the first fair in 1922, to the 75 acres then part of the complex, including 14 acres purchased the preceding summer. Stock issued for the enterprise included an initial $15,000, followed by a like amount and then $40,000 more, while a Pomona bond issue in 1923 generated $75,000 to develop the initial 40 acre tract. As for county support, it grew from $10,000 the first year to $50,000 in 1927 with a total of around $200,000, while the state chipped in about $9,000 annually.

The day after the fair ended, the Progress-Bulletin reported that attendance was about 145,000, a 17% increase from 1927, with the closing weekend including totals of some 34,000 on Saturday and not far under 32,000 on Sunday and it was adjudged that most visitors came during the day. The livestock parade on the final day drew north of 15,000 (said to be a conservative guess—elsewhere in the edition it was estimated the crowd might be near 20,000).

Progress-Bulletin, 24 September 1928.

The fair’s directors agreed that the fair was the finest to date and praise was lavished on those communities across the county which assisted, along with individuals and businesses. Notably, a Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce official noted that, while the fair was successful, most fair planners “do not try to carry out one beautiful theme” and, though they obviously wanted attractive exhibits, “they do not strive hard each year for originality.” Only recently has the fair moved to the spring because of hotter weather in September, though this year’s May event was unseasonable cool, as has been this month. The official reported attendance was 718,000 for a 16-day event, compared to about 732,000 for 19 days in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the event for the following two years.

As noted above, we have seven more of these Southern California Tourist issues in the Homestead’s holdings, so we’ll certainly look to feature more of them in future posts.

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