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Twists and Turns of the OC Fair

WEB-EXCLUSIVE: There's more to this Orange County tradition than deep-fried foods and Ferris wheels.

Courtesy of OC Fair and Event Center

OC Fair & Event Center
88 Fair Dr., Costa Mesa
714.708.3247 :: ocfair.com

It's difficult not to think of Ferris wheels and deep-fried Twinkies/Coke/butter when thinking of the Orange County Fair. But surprisingly, the fair hasn't always been about the rides and cholesterol.  

Back in 1891, it was actually a small community fair lasting three to five days and featuring a live horse race and a few livestock exhibitions. A far cry from the 23-day festival of food vendors, rides, games, and extensive musical entertainment that it consists of today.

The Beginning
The OC Fair has been an annual event since the creation of Orange County in 1889. It officially began in 1890, when the Orange County Fair Association decided to open up a small fair in Santa Ana.

It later moved to Anaheim, where it was called the Anaheim Carnival. Then, after World War I, it moved to Huntington Beach and changed its name to the Harvest Home Festival, where it remained for two years. It then moved back to Santa Ana followed by another move to Anaheim in 1925, at which point came the addition of a rodeo and carnival atmosphere.

The ownership of the fair also changed constantly. The Orange County Fair Association was created to look after the fair, but in 1916, the Orange County Farm Bureau became the managing team for the fair. By 1925, the first board members were selected from that organization. After World War II, The 32nd District Agricultural Association was created by the State of California, taking on leadership of the fair.  

The 32nd District Agricultural Association decided to purchase land occupied by the Santa Ana Army Base back in 1949 so that the fair could have a more permanent home. The fair stayed there until 1953, at which point it moved to the then-new City of Costa Mesa, where it remains today.

Dawning of a New Fair
Throughout the years, the OC Fair has established several traditions. One is the recognition of Orange County residents who have bettered the community and become successful in their fields of interest. They are celebrated through blue ribbon prizes and awards.

Another tradition is the assortment of animal areas and classic exhibits, including the popular Centennial Farm. One of the fair's most popular events is the annual All-Alaskan Pig Race. Children get to choose their favorite pig and cheer him on through the race.

Over the years, the fair has added many new entertainment options. In 1969, Bruce Flanders announced the first motorsport race at the fairgrounds and in 1985, the fairgrounds became the home of the qualifying rounds of the US Championship of Speedway Motorcycle Racing. Car shows have also been included within the fair since the 1980s.  

With the opening of the Pacific Amphitheatre in 1983, the fair was able to expand entertainment options even more with live concerts. Past Pacific Amphitheatre shows included the 1968 Newport Pop Festival, which hosted performances by Sonny Bono and Cher, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, The Byrds, and Tiny Tim. More recent shows have included Steve Miller Band, ZZ Top, Sublime, The B-52’s, Adam Lambert, LeAnn Rimes, Alan Jackson, and The Black Eyed Peas.

The Drama
The OC Fair has not had it easy over the last few years. Plans to sell the fairgrounds and bidding wars have been in the news continuously. With California’s budget in a dire state, selling highly profitable land was a way for California to get out of its slump. Orange County residents worried that by selling this Costa Mesa land, they would lose the amphitheater, equestrian center, swap meet, and Centennial Farm, which make up the fairground property. There were also concerns that the fair would disappear entirely, which would greatly affect the city and its yearly earnings.

As of February 9, 2011, Governor Jerry Brown announced that he would cancel the $2.33 billion real estate deal that included the sale of the fairground property.  

Brown stated that, “The sale and leaseback proposal was short-sighted and would have cost taxpayers billions of dollars in the long run. Selling and leasing back the state’s buildings for one-time gains is not prudent.”

This seems to answer the question of what will happen to the Orange County fairgrounds, but Brown’s final decision won’t be official until sometime in March.

This Year at the Fair
The 2011 Orange County Fair has set its opening day for July 15 with a theme of Let’s Eat! Drop by and enjoy everything new and old about the fair... and don't forget to eat something fried.

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