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  • Ellen Gorelick

The Tulare County Fair

Tulare's first fair was a citrus fair held in the historic pavilion located in Zumwalt Park. It was held in October of 1893 and ran for five days. Ironically, Tulare then had little or no citrus of its own and had to import the fruit to be displayed from the county's east side. At that time, eight members of the board of directors: Jasper Harrell, and H.P. Perkins from Visalia; W.B. Cartmill, A.P. Merritt, and E.D. Castle from Tulare; Jacob Hayes from Poplar; George S. Berry from Lindsay; and G.A. Dodge from Hanford.

The Tulare County Fair began in 1915. Since its inception as a small "sales ring" during the World War I era, the Tulare County Fair has been through its own private "Wars," ranging from disastrous fires, delinquent assessments, union fights, and alleged breaches of contract. About 1915, several Tulare area farmers interested in cattle and hog raising wanted to promote better cattle and hog sales in Tulare. They banded together and purchased five to ten acres of land where the Chamber of Commerce Office used to stand at the southeast corner of Alpine and "K" Streets.

The original group included R.F. (Frank) Guerin, W.J. (Bill) Higdon, R.C. Sturgeon, Alfred J. Elliott, W.H. Wilbur, Alex Whaley, Alan Thompson, and W.F. Mitchell. They were the nucleus of the Tulare Livestock Association. They built a small sales ring and stalls and hired a top father-son auctioneer team from Los Angeles, Rhoades, and Rhoades, to do the selling. James McCallister, who later moved to San Francisco to become a wealthy automobile dealer, was their ring man.

They held the first livestock fair in September of 1919. Guerin later recalled that when the Board of Trade, the forerunner of today's Chamber of Commerce, saw the need for a fair, it asked the sales ring owners to help. The group deeded the property, recorded in Sturgeon's name, to the Board of Trade, reserving the right to hold sales. According to the late Alfred Elliot, they obtained two parcels of land east of the original site in 1924 or 1925. One, the area of a baseball park, was given to the Chamber of Commerce by the city. They purchased the other by the payment of delinquent taxes on the land.

In the early 1930s, a thirty-five-acre area to the south of the Chamber's land became available. They held a mortgage on the property for $1,700.00, and the Chamber could buy it for that amount. That acquisition brought the fairgrounds to its present size of fifty acres. In 1936, they changed the name from the Tulare Livestock Association to the Tulare-Kings County Fair. A year later, it was shifted over to the 24th Agricultural District Association when state money from horse racing became available for fair purposes. The Chamber at that time entered into a forty-year lease with the fair Association with the stipulation that people made payments of $1.00 a year rental to the Chamber and that the Agricultural Association would pay all of the taxes and not permit any other assessment to become delinquent. However, a later investigation showed that delinquent taxes nearly caused the Chamber to lose the property, and the Directors declared the clearance of that title to the property. In 1948, Kings County broke away from Tulare County to conduct its separate fair in Hanford.

In 1952, one month before the fair's opening day, the fair suffered a disastrous fire. The August 13th fire destroyed the old pavilion building and adjacent structures. In addition to the pavilion's loss, the early evening blaze also destroyed the community exhibit space, automobile exhibit hall (along with several new cars), three aisles of the commercial exhibit space, and an adjoining exhibit room. They estimated the total loss at $500,000.00. However, the fair went on despite the loss. The following January, the State Department of Finance allocated $385,000.00 to construct three new fireproof buildings to replace those lost in the conflagration. Before this, in 1950, the Association and the electrical workers battled in a drawn-out fight over contracts, holding up construction on other buildings. Before they solved that problem, months later, it caused the professional vaudeville entertainment to bow off the stage during an afternoon performance with five days to run. All in all, the Tulare County Fair has quite a history.

The County of Tulare is one of the wealthiest agricultural counties in the State of California and thus the nation. The Tulare County Fair is a showcase for the County of Tulare's lifeblood, agriculture. The fair provides an excellent opportunity for people from throughout the State of California to learn more about agriculture and the dairy industry. Besides, there are numerous family-oriented forms of entertainment. Be sure to visit the Tulare County Fair, located at 215 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in the City of Tulare, for great family fun and to make some history of your own!

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