August 30, 2018

Photo Essay: Upon the Opening of the 2018 LA County Fair

The Los Angeles County Fair ranks as the country’s fourth-largest and is bigger than many state fairs. This year, it opens on August 31 and runs through September 23.

I've spent the last six years visiting the so-called "Fairplex," and I've discovered that there's more to it than meets the eye.

The "Fairplex" fairgrounds have been home to the LA County Fair since 1922 (the carnival in its current location since 195), but there are plenty of other attractions to explore there—including museums and historical sites.

For one, it's the former site of the Pomona Assembly Center, a detention camp for Japanese-Californians during the first few months of World War II in 1942. (More on that below.)

There's even a gallery in the 1937-era “Fine Arts Building” that you can visit year-round, even when the fair isn’t in session—thanks to muralist, mosaicist, and sometimes architect Millard Sheets, born in Pomona and director of the Fair’s fine arts exhibit for 25 years. It was dedicated as the Millard Sheets Gallery in 1994, though it was later rechristened as the Millard Sheets Center for the Arts at Fairplex.

There is, of course, the Farm at Fairplex and the Fairplex Garden Railroad (accessible via two time-warp faux bois bridges)... well as the RailGiants Train Museum (which I still haven't posted about after visiting in early 2017, but stay tuned) and the hot rod museum (in the fair's former Home Arts Building).

But the fairgrounds themselves are pretty interesting, too—built in 1922 on top of a beet and barley field smack-dab in the Pomona Valley's middle of nowhere, surrounded by orchards, with the San Gabriel Mountains looming in the distance.

Many of the outdoor plazas, fountains, and other landscaping of today were added in 1989, the same year that Buildings 5, 6, 7, and 8 were renovated.

Even with no exhibits showing in the halls, the buildings themselves are actually quite interesting.

Many of them date back to the WPA era, when the federal government helped replace the fair's livestock barns (which had burned down) and temporary tents...

...with permanent structures that were surprisingly deco-styled, considering they were being used to house agricultural and livestock exhibits (like rabbits and chickens).

They were added to the grounds in both 1937 and 1938 and not only still stand but are still used today for various fair- and non-fair-related activities throughout the year.

The LA County Fair has run continuously since 1922, with the exception of one day in 2001 (September 11) and six years during World War II, when the Army took over and used it as part of the war relocation effort (hence the Japanese internment camp), a camp for German and Italian prisoners of war, and a desert training center.

When the fair reopened in 1948 after the end of the war, attendance surpassed the one-million mark for the first time and has hit that milestone every year since, except one.

As interesting as the entire complex is, the LA County Fair itself is notable for a variety of reasons. Of its three mascots, the oldest is Thummer the pig, who joined the Fair Association in 1948 (though he didn't get his moniker until a "Name the Pig" contest in 1952).

In 1955, a fair vendor introduced what was to become known as the "frisbee" to the public for the first time.

Upon the fair's 95th anniversary in 2017, what had been the largest transitional Ferris wheel in the Western Hemisphere (La Grande Wheel, above) was replaced by the smaller but more modern La Grande Wheel XL, whose enclosed and air-conditioned gondolas only reach 130 feet in the air.

Today, the fair is comprised of a sprawling 543 acres, which are impossible to explore all in one day.

And with this year's theme being Route 66 (Foothill Boulevard is just a stone's throw away)—and featuring a "haunted" Route 66 attraction—I might just have to go back to the fairground for the actual fair for the first time since 2012 (when I went twice).

See also my article for KCET, "Five Year-Round Reasons to Visit the L.A. County Fairgrounds."

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Farming at the LA County Fairgrounds
Photo Essay: Tiny Villages at the LA County Fairgrounds (Updated for 2018)
Another Missed Calling
Photo Essay: A SoCal County Celebrates the Sahara
Back to Bakersfield

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