Los Angeles County Fair looks back and looks forward to 100 – Press Enterprise

Usually when you hear “100” and “LA County Fair” in the same sentence, it’s about how hot it is. On opening day in 2019, the mercury reached 110 degrees. That’s almost hot enough to fry a turkey leg, and definitely hot enough to burn a human leg.

This year the fair is reaching 100 in an entertaining way. Founded in 1922, it is 100 years old. Happy Birthday!

But this is not your great-grandfather’s fair. After 99 years in September, the fair moves to May. It starts on Thursday, when a high of 86 is forecast, and ends on May 30, when your guess is as good as mine.

Why the switch? Climate change. As fairgoers can attest, it’s real.

September temperatures have been scorching in recent years. In 2019, the daily average temperature for the first three weeks of the fair was 93 degrees. And for an event that takes place almost entirely outdoors on tarmac, that’s bad.

People started showing up in the late afternoon and early evening to escape the afternoon heat. That shouldn’t be a problem in May, unless the fair brings hot weather.

Hours will be 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. instead of changing by day as before. “Easy for people to remember,” says Renee Hernandez, the fair’s spokeswoman. And because of the weather, old attendance patterns may reassert themselves.

“Now that we are in May, we are thinking that we will see more people coming during the day. From noon to 3 we saw light crowds. We think we will be constantly busy throughout the day,” says Hernández.

The hope is to meet or exceed the 2019 attendance of 1.1 million visitors.

It will run for 17 days in total, from Thursday to Sunday for four weeks, plus Memorial Day as a bonus at the end. Mother’s Day at the fair? It is real.

In recent years, the fair has reduced its programming from seven days to five days. This year it’s four days. That’s just one more day than 3 Day Suit Broker.

Blame the pandemic.

“We knew we were doing a four-day fair instead of five because we’re coming back to the fair after two years of being closed,” Hernandez tells me during a tour Monday. “We have a much smaller staff than we did before the pandemic.”

Full-time permanent staff was reduced from 130 to 45, increased of course by temporary hires for the fair. Everyone is juggling multiple roles and responsibilities. (I hope the fair has real jugglers, too.)

Much of the show was still in the concept stage on Monday morning, with setup in full swing, but everything will be ready by Thursday. In other words, I heard about the fair but had to use my imagination for much of it.

The Pavilion of Flowers and Gardens was practically ready. Not the flowers and gardens of the same name, but their surroundings.

When I walked in, I was greeted by a billboard-like “Welcome” screen made of oranges, lemons, and limes. Its centerpiece is the classic fairground mascot, Thummer the pig. Wow!

Now, my friends, it’s the Los Angeles County Fair we know and love.

The rest of the building pays homage to fairs from decades past. There are homages to past themes of Flowers and Gardens from Mexico, China, and Venice. Italy, not California, or else the tribute would include tech workers walking alongside homeless people.

Nods to several fair highlights from the last century include the display of 1950s “modern living” houses and the giant slide.

A cutout of a redwood trunk uses rope and the rings of the tree to identify notable moments in the fair’s history, such as the debut of the Model Garden Railroad, the National Hot Rod Association Museum, and the monorail.

“It represents 100 years of what happened at the fair,” says Marcus Pollitz, exhibit designer.

Speaking of the anniversary, the fair’s theme is “Back to Our Roots,” which will unfold in ways big and small.

Vintage snapshots submitted by fair attendees will be screened on a loop inside the Millard Sheets Art Center. Two long-absent food stalls will return: Piggly Wiggly and Australian Battered Potatoes.

(Coincidentally, a couple of hours into my tour, a Pomona librarian said she misses Piggly Wiggly, and I could share the latest news that she’s coming back. I like to keep librarians happy.)

Animals raised by youth in the 4-H and Future Farmers of America programs will return for the first time in 15 years. Cal Poly Pomona will also provide animals to view and for a petting zoo. In recent years, a traveling exhibit company has brought in animals.

“Since it’s our 100th anniversary, we thought it was important to reconnect with agriculture,” Hernandez says. “Our mission will be, how do we keep that going in a 21st century world?”

In another callback, the band War will kick off the concert series on Thursday along with El Chicano. I don’t know how many times War has played fair, but it must be about 10 out of every 100 years.

There will also be new material, such as NextFestLA, featuring up-and-coming bands and DJs. It’s kind of an antidote to the Boomer nostalgia acts that fill many of the grandstand dates.

A lowrider car show will take place during the course of the fair. On weekends there will be a poetry contest hosted by Pomona Poet Laureate David Judah Oliver. (This is my chance to ask if anything rhymes with “Pomona.”)

And the Millard Sheets Art Center will celebrate the centennial in part by highlighting some of the diversity that the fair has lacked in its first century.

Speaking of which, each weekend a different culture will be celebrated, in order: Latin American Heritage (May 7 and 8), African American Heritage (May 14 and 15), Asian American Pacific Islander Weekend (May 21 and May 22) and, finally, Proud Weekend (May 28 and 29) for our LGBTQ friends.

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