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Del Mar Fairgrounds: History

1900-1935 - Horse Racing Provides a Steady Source of Funds

Local fairs became full-fledged State of California agencies in 1904 when the state legislature formally organized district agricultural associations to promote and encourage local agricultural and home industry. The 22nd District Agricultural Association, still the sponsor of the San Diego County Fair, was formed as a result of this legislation.

After the turn of the 20th century, the city of San Diego hosted the Fair for most of the years leading to World War I. Finding money to fund the event continued to be a problem, so no Fair was held for several years. In 1916 the Fair found a temporary home in buildings constructed for the Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park. Throughout the booming 1920s, the Fair was held annually.

But in 1930, the United States was gripped in the economic stranglehold of the Great Depression. No money was available to produce the event for the next few years.

By this time, California became the nation's leading producer of several varieties of fruit and nuts, and also had significant acreage devoted to vegetables, cotton and livestock production. Because agriculture was so important to California, the fairs that celebrated it were deemed to be worth saving. Horse racing had long been associated with fairs, because when farmers got together to see who had the best produce and livestock, they also wanted to know who owned the fastest horse.

With the passage of Proposition 3 in 1933, the State Legislature legalized on-track, pari-mutuel wagering on horse races at private tracks, district or county fairs and the State Fair. The State's share of the betting revenue would help to save and support the citrus, county and district fairs. State institutions for training youth in agricultural and animal husbandry also would benefit.

In September of 1933, eight members were appointed to the 22nd District Agricultural Association Board of Directors. They were James E. Franks, Frank Forward, Robert Graham, D. A. Noble, T.G. LeBlanc, Fred W. Mitchell, C. C. Robinson and Arthur Stone. Franks, a San Diego businessman, was elected president and immediately began to look for a permanent site for the Fair.

Franks and Col. Ed Fletcher, initial developers of Lake Cuyamaca in the 1920s, took the idea to Gov. James Rolph, who approved it, since several other California cities already had homes for their district and county fairs. The State Division of Fairs and Expositions, which had been established in 1929, contributed money to buy a site.

The old Del Mar golf course in the San Dieguito River Valley was one of many places in the county that was considered. But the site selection committee settled on Crown Point in Pacific Beach. That was a blow to North County developers and real estate men, who anticipated a healthy commission from the sale of the golf course property. Fletcher, who at the time was a state senator, was urged to use his influence to bring about a reversal of the Fair Board's decision. He pointed out that the 184-acre site was just off the main highway and the Santa Fe Railroad, and that it was easily accessible from both San Diego and Los Angeles; therefore it was the logical place for a permanent home for the Fair. He also promised his assistance toward obtaining a grant from the Works Progress Administration for the construction of the Fairgrounds if the Fair Board decided in favor of Del Mar.

The Board listened to Fletcher and was convinced. On October 7, 1935, it was announced to the San Dieguito Chamber of Commerce that the County Fair would be held on the old Del Mar Golf Course.

Applications were filed with the WPA for a $500,666 grant to construct the facilities. There was a slight delay when WPA officials learned that the 22nd District did not own the land on which the Fairgrounds were built, but the Fair Board quickly bought 184 acres from the South Coast Land Company for $25,000. (Later another 57.2 acres were bought for $10,868, making a total of 241.2 acres.) With deed in hand, the Fair Board proceeded with the processing of the grant applications, and officials in Sacramento and Washington gave final approval.

Del Mar Fairgrounds, 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd, Del Mar, CA 92014

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