The Big Fresno Fair
The Big Fresno Fair is the largest annual event in the Central Valley, attracting more than 600,000 people each October during its two-week run featuring exhibits, livestock show, live horse racing, musical entertainment, educational programs and more. The Fair provides a link between urban and rural California, serving as a tool in educating Valley residents on the region's rich agricultural industry who might have otherwise not understood the importance or vastness of this commerce on the region. The mission of The Big Fresno Fair is to "Educate, Celebrate and Have Fun."
In addition to being the site of the annual Fair, the Fresno Fairgrounds serves as a year-round rental facility that spans 165 acres held under a 50-year lease with the County of Fresno. The Fresno Fairgrounds hosts more than 250 annual events such as conventions, trade shows and banquets located in Fresno, California.
Annually more than 1.5 million people visit the Fresno Fairgrounds through The Big Fresno Fair event, weekly satellite wagering and the 250+ interim events. This number continues to increase each year as the popularity of The Big Fresno Fair and the Fresno Fairgrounds as a rental facility continues to grow, in part due to $14 million in capital improvements completed over the past decade.
The Big Fresno Fair, founded in 1884, is the fifth-largest fair in the State of California. The Big Fresno Fair (District) represents the 21st District Agricultural Association, an entity of the California Department of Food and Agriculture Division of Fairs & Expositions. According to an independent report from 2002, The Big Fresno Fair contributes more than $68.6 million in economic impact to Fresno County annually.
The District is self-funded through business operations and generous community contributions; it does not receive any funding from the State for operations. The District's budget is managed by CEO John Alkire, administrative management and staff, and is overseen by a nine-member Board appointed by the Governor's office. The District derives its annual income from three main sources: the annual Big Fresno Fair, weekly satellite wagering and interim events. The largest interim events include the weekly swap meet, the annual Hmong International New Year celebration, and the Fresno Home and Garden Show in March.
From weddings and quinceañeras to trade shows and concerts, the Fresno Fairgrounds provides diverse venues to house a variety of events. There are a total of nine major exhibit buildings in addition to an amphitheater, Table Mountain Rancheria Park and Pavilion.
List of rental facilities at the Fresno Fairgrounds:
- Agriculture Building: 19,000 sq. ft. – 2,700 capacity
- Commerce Building: 25,000 sq. ft. – 3,871 capacity
- Fine Arts & Photography Building (Industrial Education): 11,000 sq. ft. – 1,571 capacity
- Gem & Mineral Building: 4,760 sq. ft. – 680 capacity
- Industry Commerce Building: 25,000 sq. ft. – 3,571 capacity
- Junior Exhibit Building: 20,000 sq. ft. – capacity 2,858 capacity
- Livestock Pavilion: N/A sq. ft. – N/A capacity
- Paul Paul Theater: N/A sq. ft. – 5,000 capacity
- Table Mountain Rancheria Park – N/A sq. ft. – N/A capacity
- The Greenhouse: 21,063 sq. ft. – N/A capacity
- Turf Club – Brian I. Tatarian Grandstand: N/A sq. ft. – 200 capacity
Horse racing has been a big tradition of The Big Fresno Fair since the beginning. In 1883 the first Fresno Fair was held and featured a five-day horse race meet that pitted horses of farm owners from throughout the Valley against one another.
Fast forward to present day, The Big Fresno Fair's track is considered one of the fastest on the California racing circuit and draws more than 500 horses to compete during its nine days of racing. In the past decade, more than $4 million has been invested in the horse racing facility including a complete remodel of the paddock and addition of a luxury deck to the Brian I. Tatarian Grandstand, planting of 6,100 trees and so much more. The last racing fair of the year, The Big Fresno Fair always draws big crowds at the horse races and is something that needs to be experienced in person to understand the energy and excitement of the track atmosphere.
Unique to all California fairs, the District operates two year-round satellite wagering facilities – The Starting Gate at the Fairgrounds and The Polo Lounge at Club One Casino in Downtown Fresno – where horse racing can be watched and wagered on year-round four days a week.
The Fresno Fairgrounds host more than 250 events per year ranging from the Sun-Maid Kennel Club Dog Show and the NoTown Roller Derby matches to the highly anticipated Fresno Home & Garden Shows and a variety of concerts. The variety of events brings a little something for everyone to enjoy year round. Some key large annual events are:
- Flea Market And Swap Meet - The Big Fresno Fairgrounds' Flea Market & Swap Meet takes place every Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is free on Thursday and Saturday and only $1.00 on Sunday. Children age ten and under are always free.
- Home Shows - The Fresno Home Shows bring top professionals from a variety of home-based industries, such as restyling and remodeling, to the Fresno Fairgrounds three times a year for a weekend full of home-improvement fun.
- Spring Show - The Fresno Home and Garden Show connects top professionals with consumers for money-saving spring home makeover tips and ideas.
- Summer Show - The Fresno Home Remodeling and Decorating Show brings home remodeling and decorating experts to the Fresno Fairgrounds and offers a wide variety of fresh, high-quality products and services to interested consumers.
- Fall Show - The Fresno Fall Home Improvement Show offers a variety of cost-effective ideas, from creating your own wreath or floral display to stocking stuffer ideas and contractors on-hand to discuss your project ideas, the Fall Home Show has it all.
- Hmong International New Year - The annual Hmong International New Year celebration at the Fresno Fairgrounds brings more than 100,000 people from all over the world. Festivity activities include Hmong arts and crafts and non-stop entertainment including "pov pob", the biggest attraction, where the toss of a ball may win the participants a partner for life. Additionally, vendors from all over the country and from abroad sell arts, crafts and ethnic foods.
The Big Fresno Fair Museum
In 2013, The Big Fresno Fair first revealed its Big Fresno Fair Museum. Located in O'Neill Hall, the Museum walks you through the history of The Big Fresno Fair from the oldest Blue Ribbon given in 1909 to the first-ever built cotton candy machine in 1921. It features over 2,600 items related to the Fair, Valley agriculture and more – including photos by Claude C. "Pop" Laval, which each include a description helping to tell a story about that moment in the Fair's history. The Big Fresno Fair Museum is a cross-section of history from that time period, which showcases not only the history of the Fair, but includes relics related to the history of Fresno itself to help show the uniqueness of the community.
In 2014, a documentary-style video, Heritage Talks, was added to the Museum that features stories from past Building Superintendents, Board of Directors, longtime staff members and concessionaires, plus horse racing supporters – all recalling their memories of The Big Fresno Fair and the role it played in their lives. Currently, an expansion of the award-winning Museum is underway to include 7,000 sq. ft. more space in the new two-story, Fresno Historical Museum building located just inside the Chance Avenue Gate Entrance.
The Big Fresno Fair has received many accolades over the years, but the highest honor awarded in the fair industry is the Merrill Award – widely considered the "Oscar" of the fair industry. In January 2015, The Big Fresno Fair was awarded its third Merrill Award by the Western Fairs Association at its 92nd annual Convention & Trade Show in Reno, Nevada.
The Big Fresno Fair has received all three Merrill Awards under the current leadership team of John C. Alkire, CEO; Stacy Rianda, Deputy Manager II; and Lauri King, Deputy Manager I. The Big Fresno Fair received its first award in 2007 for the Pirates in the Park attraction in the Table Mountain Rancheria Park, which was part of a multi-year capital improvements project for the Fairgrounds and its second Merrill Award in 2012 for the "Feed the Need" Community Food Drive held in collaboration with The Salvation Army and Community Food Bank.
Board of Directors
Appointed by the Governor of California, Board members serve a four-year term and can be reappointed after the conclusion of that term.
2015 Board of Directors:
President – Leta Ciavaglia
Vice President – Debbie Jacobsen
Secretary/Treasurer – Jerry Pacheco
Board member – Elizabeth Hudson
Board member – Linda Mae Balakian Hunsucker
Board member – Larry Serpa
Board member – Ricky Vang
Board member – Dora Westerlund
Board member – William White
Fresno Assembly Center
The Fresno Fairgrounds was the site of one of several temporary detention camps located throughout the West that represented the first phase of the mass incarceration of 97,785 Californians of Japanese ancestry during World War II. Pursuant to Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, thirteen makeshift detention facilities were constructed at various California racetracks, fairgrounds, and labor camps. These facilities were intended to confine Japanese Americans until more permanent internment camps could be built in isolated areas of the country, such as Manzanar and Tule Lake in California. Beginning on March 30, 1942, all native-born Americans and long-time legal residents of Japanese ancestry living in California were ordered to surrender themselves for detention. 5,344 Japanese Americans from Fresno and the surrounding area passed through the Fresno Assembly Center before being transferred to the Jerome War Relocation Center in Arkansas and Gila River, Arizona. California Historical Landmark #934 is a memorial dedicated to the over 5,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry who were confined at the fairgrounds from May to October 1942. The marker is part of an expanded Fresno Assembly Center Memorial that lists in bronze the names of all who were incarcerated here and the storyboards with photos and personal commentaries by former Valley internees and their families tell the personal tales of the tragic violation of the Constitutional Rights of these American citizens. Banners highlighting photos from the era also educate visitors about the historical significance of the site. As philosopher and poet George Santayana stated, "Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it." The Fresno Assembly Center Memorial is designed to help our community to remember this tragic past event and not be condemned to repeat it. It can be found in front of Commerce Building next to the Chance Avenue entrance.
- Wozniacka, Gosia (October 2, 2011), "Memorial site to mark Japanese American detention", Seattle Post-Intelligencer
- Fresno" Densho Encyclopedia (accessed 17 Jun 2014)