"The History of the Tulare County Fair"
By Ellen Gorelick, Executive Director-Chief Curator
Tulare Historical Museum
Tulare's first fair was actually a citrus fair which was held in the historic pavilion located in what now is 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 east side of the county. At that time there were 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. Their ring man was James McCallister, who later moved to San Francisco to become a wealthy automobile dealer.
The first livestock fair was held in September of 1919. Guerin was later to recall 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, which had been recorded in Sturgeon's name, to the Board of Trade reserving the right to hold sales. In 1924 or 1925, according to the late Alfred Elliott, two parcels of land east of the original site were obtained. One, the site of a baseball park, was given to the Chamber of Commerce by the city. The other was purchased by the payment of delinquent taxes on the land.
In the early 1930s, a thirty-five acre area to the south of the land owned by the chamber became available. A mortgage was held on the property for $1,700.00, and the chamber was able to buy it for that amount. That acquisition brought the fairgrounds to its present size of fifty acres. In 1936, the name was changed 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 payments of $1.00 a year rental be made to the chamber and that the Agricultural Association would pay all of the taxes and not permit any other assessment to become delinquent. However, later investigation showed that delinquent taxes nearly caused the Chamber to lose the property, and the Directors declared that title to the property was finally cleared. In 1948, Kings County broke away from Tulare County to conduct its own separate fair in Hanford. In 1952, one month before opening day of the fair, the fair suffered a disastrous fire. The August 13th fire destroyed the old pavilion building and adjacent structures. In addition to the loss of the pavilion, 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. The total loss was estimated at $500,000.00. However, the fair went on despite the loss, and 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. But even before this, in 1950, construction on other buildings was held up while the Association and the electrical workers battled in a drawn out fight over contracts. Before that problem was solved, 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 richest 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, and the fair provides a wonderful opportunity for people from throughout the State of California to learn more about both agriculture and the dairy industry. In addition, 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!
For additional information, visit the Tulare Historical Museum, 444 West Tulare Avenue, Tulare California 93274 or call (559) 686-2074.