The Big Fresno Fair
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The Big Fresno Fair, founded in 1884, is the fifth-largest fair in the State of California. The Big Fresno Fair represents the 21st District Agricultural Association, an entity of the California Department of Food and Agriculture Division of Fairs & Expositions. It is the largest annual event in the San Joaquin Valley, attracting more than 600,000 people each October during its two-week run featuring exhibits, a 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 to educate visitors on the region's rich agricultural industry. 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. More than 1.5 million people visit the Fresno Fairgrounds 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. According to an independent report from 2002, The Big Fresno Fair contributes more than $68.6 million in economic impact to Fresno County annually.
A virtual fair is planned in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled all live events & rides. There were cancellations in 1917–18 & 1942–44.
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. – 2,858 capacity
- Livestock Pavilion
- Paul Paul Theater: 5,000 capacity
- Table Mountain Rancheria Park
- The Greenhouse: 21,063 sq. ft.
- Turf Club – Brian I. Tatarian Grandstand: 200 capacity
Horse racing has been held since the inaugural fair in 1883, which featured five days of racing between horses of farm owners from throughout the Valley.
The Big Fresno Fair's horse 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 and planting of 6,100 trees.
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 hosts more than 250 events per year including the Sun-Maid Kennel Club Dog Show, NoTown Roller Derby, the Fresno Home & Garden Shows and concerts. 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.
- Home Shows - The three Fresno Home Shows feature a variety of home-based industries. The Fresno Home and Garden Show is held each spring, The Fresno Home Remodeling and Decorating Show in the summer and The Fresno Fall Home Improvement Show is in the fall.
- 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 entertainment including pov pob, a traditional Hmong activity for unmarried couples.
The Big Fresno Fair Museum and Fresno County Historical Museum
In 2013, The Big Fresno Fair opened the Big Fresno Fair Museum. Located in O'Neill Hall, the Museum features the history of The Big Fresno Fair, Fresno agriculture and the City of Fresno. It has more than 2,600 items, including an exhibit by American photographer Pop Laval. In 2014, a documentary-style video, Heritage Talks, was added to the museum that features an oral history from Building Superintendents, Boards of Directors, staff members, concessionaires, and horse racing enthusiasts In 2015, the museum expanded to include a new 14,000 square foot building which houses the Fresno County Historical Museum. In 2018, the History of Boxing exhibit was added.
Awards won by The Big Fresno Fair include the Merrill Award in 2007, 2012 and 2015, presented annually by the Western Fairs Association for innovation, vision, and excellence. The Fair is the recipient of the WFA Gold Star and Achievement Award numerous times. CEO John Alkire was inducted into the WFA Hall of Fame in 2010.
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 – Debbie Jacobsen
Vice President – Larry Serpa
Secretary/Treasurer – Jerry Pacheco
Board member – Leta Ciavaglia
Board member – Linda Mae Balakian Hunsucker
Board member – Elizabeth Hudson
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, 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 more than 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 there with photos and personal commentaries by former Valley internees and their families. Banners highlighting photos from the era also educate visitors about the historical significance of the site. When the Assembly Center the fairgrounds became the Fresno Army Air Forces Training Center home of the Army Air Forces Basic Training Center No. 8. This was the United States Army Air Forces Fourth Air Force's non-flying training facility. At is peak it covered 300 acres for orientation and initial training of new forces. The Training Center closed on February 13, 1946.
- "What is the meaning of "Pov Pob" during the Hmong New Year Celebration?". Suab Hmong News. Wausau, Wisconsin. February 28, 2015. Retrieved July 2, 2020.
- Wozniacka, Gosia (October 2, 2011), "Memorial site to mark Japanese American detention", Seattle Post-Intelligencer
- Fresno" Densho Encyclopedia (accessed 17 Jun 2014)
- militarymuseum.org Fresno Army Air Forces Training Center