Fair time | June 22, 2012 | Pleasanton Weekly | PleasantonWeekly.com |


Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - June 22, 2012

Fair time

Alameda County Fair celebrates being 100 years old

The Alameda County Fair launched its 2012 extravaganza Wednesday -- 100 years after the first Fair was held -- and is observing its centennial with new rides, special activities and discounts. Plus anyone 100 years or older gets free admission. The Fair runs through July 8.

Special Fair festivities included $1 admission on opening day. A kissing contest will be held June 24 where couples must kiss for 100 consecutive seconds, then eat cotton candy placed between their mouths.

Also this year's Fair will offer a new carnival White Water Log Flume ride with two hills that take riders on steep drops that end in splashes.

"The carnival rides help to attract over 450,000 patrons, families of all ages," said April Mitchell, Event Sales and Marketing Manager. "Each year, we seek the most exciting, family-friendly, safety-conscious rides that appeal to our fairgoers."

For information on fun contests such as hotdog eating and the barbecue cook-off, plus the entertainment lineup, visit www.alamedacountyfair.com or call 426-7600.

Take me to the Fair


11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays

10 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays

11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fourth of July

Closed Mondays

Tickets sales close at 9 p.m.


Adults -- $10 at the gate

Seniors (age 62) $8 at the gate

Kids (age 6-12) $6 at the gate; under 6, free

Special events

* Centennial Parade: 9:30 a.m., Saturday, June 23, Main Street

* $2 Tuesdays: June 26, July 3

* Senior Free Thursday: June 21, June 28, July 5 (62 and older)

* Kids Free Fridays: June 22, June 29, July 6 (12 and under)

* Fireworks: 9:30 p.m., Fridays, June 22, June 29, July 6

* Stuff the Bus Foster Kids Clothing Drive: June 22. Bring a new clothing item and receive $5 Fair admission.

* Feed the Need Food Drive and $1 Rides: June 27. Bring four non-perishable food items and receive free Fair admission, benefiting the Alameda County Community Food Bank.

* Military Appreciation Day: June 22. Free Fair admission for two with one valid military ID. Veterans free with proof of service.

The first Fair: 1912

The first "modern Fair" was held in Pleasanton in 1912, when the owner of the racetrack, Rodney G. MacKenzie, began to push for holding a fair on his property, according to a pictorial history, "Celebrating Family Fun at the County Fair!" that was written and edited by Bob and Pat Lane and published in 2002. (Read about the history of the racetrack on Page 10.)

Fifteen businessmen and ranchers met and formed the Alameda County Fair Association, with its first meeting on June 29, 1912. Stock was sold at $100 per share to finance the first Fair, which ran Oct. 23-27 and attracted thousands. It was a forerunner to today's Fair, with livestock, plants and cut flowers, and fine arts. It also had competitions for grammar school students in handwriting and drawing maps of California and the United States.

The Fair was also held in 1913 and 1914, and although attendance increased, it did not do well financially. In 1915, San Francisco hosted the Panama-Pacific International Exposition so the association decided not to hold the County Fair. It was not resumed, at first due to World War I, although from 1916-1932 the racetrack was used as a training track, for races of various kinds, including cars and motorcycles, and for airplane trials.

It was not until the 1930s that Alameda County again became interested in holding a County Fair. In 1933, California legalized pari mutuel betting in the state, with a tax to subsidize state fairs to promote agriculture and livestock.

After several attempts by community and county groups to get started, finally in January 1939 the Alameda County Fair Association was formed in Pleasanton. Eight-two members joined the Board of Directors, who used their own personal funds -- notes from $1,000 to $100,000 -- to guarantee the endeavor. The land was leased from the MacKenzie heirs and the Fair was held in the exhibition buildings from the 1912 event. The Alameda County Agricultural Fair and Horse Show ran from Aug. 10-13, 1939.

This fair included a carnival with four rides and 20 games and concessions. There were vaudeville acts, dancing in the evening, and some displays of produce, livestock and homemaking, but the horse races were the main attraction and income. The total profit was $78, only possible because so many residents volunteered their time and due to the $19,800 brought in by the races. That year and afterward the Alameda County Fair never operated at a loss, the book noted, but without pari mutuel betting it could not have survived.

The Fair was again successful in 1940, with Pleasanton's Fall Festival Parade moved to opening day, with all the cities in the county taking part. This year the parade is being held the first Saturday of the Fair.

In 1941, the county purchased the 100-acre Fairgrounds for $40,410, and the Association hired its first fair manager, Wray Bergstrom. But the Fair continued to be run for the most part by volunteers. That year the Fair ran July 3-12, with nine days of races for a handle of $432,644, which was a national record.

With the advent of World War II, the Fair was again suspended. The grandstand was used as a lookout for volunteers to search the skies for enemy aircraft. When the war ended in August 1945, a small Fair was held Oct. 5-20.

The Fair was fully up to speed in 1948, when it was held July 9-17, and Mayor Jim Trimingham even declared a half-day holiday for the city on July 15 for Livermore/Pleasanton Day at the Fair. During this period, many improvements were made in the livestock and exhibition areas, and the archway entrances were built. The Maid of Alameda County Pageant began in 1949. This period was the heyday of county fairs.

In 1963, the Fair's Board of Directors was established at 26 members, and the Fair became independent, no longer receiving support from the county, city or state. Also that year, the old wooden bandstand was torn down and the present concrete and steel grandstand was built, and 35 acres were added to the grounds for parking. In 1966-67 a new administration building was added to the Fairgrounds, near the Pleasanton Avenue entrance.

In the '70s, expansion continued and the Fair adopted the theme "Family Fun for Everyone." World class entertainers began to appear nightly in the new Amphitheater. The Young California Building was dedicated in 1975, and a 9-hole golf course replaced the inner racetrack.

One year of discord was 1976, when county employees went on strike and picketed the Fair, even though the nonprofit Fairgrounds was supposed to be off limits and Fair employees did not strike. Attendance went down 49% from the year before, resulting in a serious loss in revenue, and many improvements were cancelled.

By 1979, expansion had resumed. The long-awaited clock tower-information booth was built, a 30-foot structure with a 16-foot flagpole on top, which was a joint effort of the Fair board and the Amador-Livermore Valley Historical Society. Through the '80s, improvements continued with new kiosks and paving and an upgrade of the barn area. In 1996, a 20-year contract was signed with the county for the Alameda Country Agricultural Fair Association to run the Fairgrounds and the Fair.

The Fairgrounds is now 268 acres. More than 452,000 patrons attended last year's 17-day Fair, an 8% increase, which pleased officials since the Fair had fewer days of horse racing and the economy was struggling. In addition to the annual Fair, hundreds of events take place each year on the grounds, from the Scottish Games to the Goodguys car shows and massive RV displays. Its annual operating budget is almost $20 million for 2012.

Book authors Bob and Pat Lane moved to Pleasanton in 1952 after graduating from the College of the Pacific in Stockton, now UOP, for Bob to take a teaching position at Amador Valley High.

Pat was from Piedmont but her father, dentist L.B. "Tommy" Thomas, had opened an office in Pleasanton. During the Fair, she recalled, he would close his office to his regular patients so he could provide dental services for the Fair workers, who otherwise might never see a dentist. She said that in the '50s most of the downtown stores closed in the afternoon during the Fair.

"Everyone went to the races," she recalled, including her and her father. "Dad and I thought the horses couldn't get out of the starting gate without us," she said, laughing.

Bob Lane was working at the gates, to make ends meet until school started and he received his first teaching paycheck in October.

The Lanes' book "Celebrating Family Fun at the County Fair!" is available for $25 at the Fairgrounds office, 4501 Pleasanton Ave., or at the Museum on Main, 603 Main St.

--Dolores Fox Ciardelli


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