Since moving to California in 2014, I had yet to make it to the Los Angeles County Fair. But I just knew I had to go this year, and the LA County Fair turned 100!
Los Angeles County tried and failed six different times to start a county fair (while nearby Orange County had it figured out a whole 30 years earlier, back in 1890!) but finally got organized in September of 1921, creating a fair board to begin planning. Taking over a former beet and barley field, the LA County Fair opened in October of 1922, lasting just five days with nearly 50,000 people attending. Knowing they had something on their hands, the first permanent buildings were constructed in 1923, eventually creating what has become known as the Fairplex.
Through the roaring 20s and even into the Great Depression of the 30s, the Fair continued to draw crowds. A horse racing track had been constructed, and when California legalized parimutuel betting, the Fair became the first place for Californians to place their bets on horses. Also during this time one of my favorite things at the Fair was created, the Fairplex Garden Railroad. Originally built in 1924 as a diorama to showcase the development of a reservoir, it became a Fair icon, with trains be added to it later. Over ten years later, in 1935, it outgrew its original location, and was given 100 by 300 feet of space to create a sprawling miniature world with trains, cars, and iconic buildings.
When World War II arrived, the Fair was put on pause for six years while the grounds were turned over to the military, where it was used for a variety of things, including a temporary location for Japanese-Americans before they were forced into internment camps, and a prisoner of war camp for Italian and German soldiers. When the war was over, the Fair returned stronger than over with one million people attending, and a brand new mascot, Thummer the pig, who is still as cute as a button.
The Fair’s shopping area has always been one for people to showcase their latest gadgets, and the LA County Fair is where one of the most iconic toys debuted. Fred Morrison sold his flying discs at the LA County Fair in 1955, gaining the attention of Wham-O, who acquired the rights to sell it, and the “Pluto Platter” was introduced in 1957, later renamed Frisbee.
Today the LA County Fair is a cross-section of California, where you can learn about agriculture, art, see concerts and pig races, try a variety of fried goodies, shop, and of course take a spin the many bright and colorful rides. I won’t lie, I have a bizarre soft spot for ride facades. I think they are incredible pieces of art in the most delightful and tacky way.
Sadly the LA County Fair ends this weekend. But Fairplex has a lot to offer even when the county fair isn’t going on, including a railroad museum and NHRA museum that I hope to return to in the future.