From Beet Field to Fairplex

Bread and Butter Days
by Trisha Faye

FROM BEET FIELD TO FAIRPLEX

BBD_LA co fair 1937Time. It changes everything. Including county fairs.

On September 1, 1921, Pomona hosted a merchant’s exposition along the Southern Pacific Railway line in the downtown. Two men banded together and set in motion a chain of events that would forever change the Pomona area.

Clinton B. “Jack” Afflerbaugh, a Pomona druggist and city councilman joined forces with Harry LeBreque. LeBreque was a promoter for a railroad carnival, Foley & Burke Shows. The exposition featured exhibits in a tent with a side of carnival.

Success breeds bigger and better.

In 1922, organizers used a former beet field in Pomona to host the first Los Angeles County Fair. The fair ran for five days, October 17-21. It cost $63,000 to produce this inaugural fair, attended by 49,461 people.

The earliest festivities were not as grand as today’s are. The highlights were harness racing, chariot races, and an airplane wing-walking exhibition. Demonstrations included fascinating topics such as how to make toothpaste from orange by-products.

Life in the Pomona area was never the same.

Through the years the fair changed also. The former beet field grew to an area that now encompasses 543 acres. The carnival itself now spreads out over 13 acres.

The LA County Fair (formerly Los Angeles County Fair) is the fourth largest fair in the US, according to Wikipedia. Attendance now tops well over a million visitors, with the last few years hitting over 1.4 million guests.

The fairgrounds became ‘Fairplex’ in 1984. Although the ‘county fair’ still runs in September (moved to September in 1925), the grounds are open year round as a showground and exposition complex. This entity, that began its life as a beet field, now generates an economic impact of more than $250 million a year.

The fair’s growth was not all smooth. The Depression cast its ripples over all aspects of life. Including county fairs and other forms of entertainment. The 1930 attendance of 265,213 dropped to 233,350 in 1931.

To combat dropping attendance and declining funds, three counties banded together in 1932. Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside counties joined forces. It remained a tri-county fair over the next six years, through 1937.

Two events in 1933 helped the fair set a record attendance of 334,759.

BBD_LA co fair watching horseracingFirst, California legalized wagering on horseracing. The Los Angeles County Fair was the first in Southern California that allowed attendees to bet on the horse races.

Secondly, a wedding was held at the fair, in front of the racetrack grandstand. On September 22, 1933, Monty Montana married Louise Archer. Buck Jones, a famous cowboy screen star, was the best man. The bride and groom rode to the altar on horseback. Monty Montana rode his trusted pinto, Comanche Spot. Louise Archer rode Lady Spot.

Following this hugely successful year, in 1934 the fair was extended to 16 days. The next year organizers added a day. The five day event now ran for 17 days. Length fluctuated by a few days back and forth. In 2012 the fair ran for a record 24 days.

The years slid by.

The economy and the nation recovered.

County fairs came and went. The area grew and flourished. The fair grew and remained an event that the local residents looked forward to each fall.

Since its inception in 1922, there have only been two times the fair was closed.

The first was during World War II. On December 14, 1941 – a week after Pearl Harbor – three Army regiments arrived as first units arriving for war duty. From 1942-1947 the US Army occupied the fairgrounds. No fairs were held during these war time years.

As there isn’t a historical marker, attendees rarely discover a little known fact. From May 7 to August 24, 1942, the fairgrounds also functioned as a Wartime civilian control Administration assembly center. More than 5,000 Japanese Americans were held here before being sent to different internment camps in the state.

In 1948 the fair reopened. Thummer was introduced as the official Fair mascot. America was in the mood to celebrate. Attended topped the one million mark for the first time in the fair’s history.

The fair remained opened until 2001, when it closed following the Sept. 11th terrorist attack on the US.

Now, people attend the fairgrounds – or The Fairplex- year round. But come September, guests will be packing the 72+ acres of parking lots in search of fun, festivities, amusement rides – and lots of fried foods. Few will ponder this giant’s humble beginnings in a beet field in 1922.

 

Do you have any stories about ‘the good ole days’ that you’d like to share? Contact Trisha Faye at texastrishafaye@yahoo.com

 

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