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Heritage: Past

The first parcel of land, Mira Monte Farm, was purchased in 1940 from H. Kirk Macomber.  The 97 acres included a one-mile race track, stables, a cook house, a new well and pump house, a hay barn, box stalls and other structures. Shortly after the land purchase The Fair Association also was able to purchase 15 turnstile gates, 9 exit gates, 15 sets of bleachers and 250 outdoor benches from the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco, which was selling off a wide variety of equipment as the construction for the Exposition was completed. With the purchase of tents for housing the exhibits and bleachers for a grandstand, The Fair Association was well on its way to holding the 1st Annual Santa Clara County Fair on Oct 7-12, 1941.

The familiar “Hi, Neighbor Come to the Fair” was the result of a slogan contest in the summer of 1941. The winning entry was submitted by Mrs. Laurence Perry, of San Jose. There was also a contest for the official fair design. Bill Becker won with the figure of the Cheery Farmer.

Part of the 1941 attraction included a carnival. West Coast Shows was the carnival vendor until the 1980’s when Butler Carnival became the vendor. Butler has continued to supply the carnival rides and iconic carnival food stands to the current day.

Since the inception of the fair, there has been judging of farm animals, cooking, fancy work, fruit and vegetables. These serious events did not prevent anyone from enjoying the harness racing by day and free dancing at night. To help attract a crowd on the first closing day, Sun Oct 12, 1941, Leo Carrillo, a well-known stage and film star of that time, made a personal appearance. The program of the first fair in 1941 set the pattern which was to be followed for many years to come.

The dust had barely settled from the first Fair, when eagerness to proceed with permanent improvements was voiced.  Although the news that the country was going to war occurred a few months later, the enthusiasm remained. No fairs were held during the war years, but volunteers focused on landscaping the grounds, which included hundreds of trees, shrubs, palms, bamboo, privets, roses, fruit trees, boxwood hedge plants, hanging baskets, and acres of lawn.

The fairgrounds saw extensive use during WWII.  The grounds were often used by troops on the move, making it a convenient stop for overnight bivouacs.  When San Jose became headquarters of the Northern California combat area, the downstairs of the Administration Building became the command center until Jan 20, 1946.

As the war was coming to an end, the anticipation grew to hold the next fair, the 2nd Annual, for Sept 17-22, 1946. It was time to put into place the many plans that were established during the previous few years. During these planning years, C.J. Ryland, a Monterey architect, was hired to develop the master plan for the fairgrounds which included plans for a grandstand, main entrance building, an exhibit building and administration building. The grandstands were rated the most pressing need.

The grandstand building design was for a reinforced concrete building 400 feet long and 83 feet wide. It was to be erected on the north side of the racetrack and seat 5,280 people. Three rows of box seats would be arranged at the front with 18 rows of seats behind. The main entrance looked out on the Main Esplanade, with a bandstand on a mezzanine above it. Restrooms were located at the north and south ends of the building, and a cafeteria at the south end. The facade was early-California in style. The rear of the grandstand, facing the Main Esplanade, was 48 feet high. Original plans called for a roof, but that was delayed until 1957. Robert L. Wilson, Inc. of Oakland submitted the lowest bid of $415,242 and was awarded the contract. Malm & Walter won the electrical contract for $40,213, and General Hotel Supply Company was awarded the job of equipping the kitchen for $19,107.  Robert Wilson was confident a major part of the grandstand would be completed and ready for use in September 1949. Construction dragged along and the grandstand cornerstone was finally laid at a dedication ceremony held September 7, 1950. The building required 85,000 cubic feet of concrete, 15,000 adobe bricks, 2,755 glass blocks, and additional seating on the sundeck and a bandstand overlooking the grounds. Its impressive mass, painted an attractive pale green, gave the grounds the beginning of a skyline.

It was then evident that a portable stage was needed. It was perhaps one of the most unusual stages in existence.  It was a 100-ton mobile stage constructed of steel framing and built on 32 wheels, each

containing 100 lbs. of air pressure. It was towed by a large tractor onto the track for a performance or event and then towed off to leave the track clear. The stage was prefabricated in San Francisco and assembled at the Fairgrounds. It was equipped with dressing rooms, restrooms, an orchestra pit and storage space. It could be hooked to water and sewer lines. The stage was 80 feet long and 36 feet wide, plus the 6’ x 40’ orchestra pit, and equipped with stage sets suitable for any big playhouse. Many of the fair-featured entertainment acts performed on this stage. The Miss Santa Clara pageant, many high school graduation ceremonies and other entertainment acts during non-fair dates also made use of the portable stage.

As the planning and construction of the Grandstand proceeded, many of the other first improvements and buildings were built by San Jose Technical High School students including the Sheep and Swine Barn, cattle barns, horse stalls, a horse show arena, and the display panels, tables and glass showcases (some of these cases are still in use today) and converting the original home into the Administration Building near the racetrack.

Attendance at the 1941 fair was 55,661 people. This number continued to grow and in 1967 attendance was 367,437. This reflected two things, the remarkable population growth of the valley, and the Annual Fair becoming a 10-day event in 1966. Another indicator of growth was the number of exhibitors; in 1946 there were 677 exhibitors and 1644 entries, in 1965 there were 3877 exhibitors and 15,509 entries. Even though housing began to replace orchards, there was still an increase of horticulture entries from 293 in 1947 to 422 in 1965. Youth participation has always been recognized by fair officials as an important part of  fair activities. In 1947 there were 318 youth exhibitors with 626 entries. In 1965 the 4-H and FFA groups saw 1,436 individual exhibitors with 3,271 entries. Another indicator of the explosive growth and interest in the fair is the increase in the number of food items, beverages and other concessions rose from 35 in 1941 to 102 in 1967.

Please check back later as more historical Information is added.

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We are looking for volunteers to help grow our collection and knowledge of the fairground’s history. Interested in doing research to find additional information about the fairground’s history? Are you a ‘behind the scenes’ volunteer and want to help archive the items and stories by learning how to use the museum quality software? We are looking for passionate fairgrounds supporters who want to help preserve our history. If you are interested, please send us an email.

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