1984-Today — One of the Nation's Largest Fairs
Tall tales and fantastic stories have been associated with the Fair since the very first one in 1936. More than just a little rain fell during that 1936 Fair. On the second day it rained for five hours and people actually arrived in rowboats. (The frequency of rainy days at the fall fairs was a consideration when the decision was made to move the dates to June and July of each year.)
One year a Hollywood stunt man was hired to ride a motorcycle through a 40-foot-long burning building twice daily. On the fifth day of the Fair, he somehow caught fire and promptly quit.
Then there was the year that the scientific show featured a daily miniature atomic bomb blast. Someone stole the radioactive ping-pong balls from the display and the Atomic Energy Commission was summoned to make certain there was no potential danger to the public.
Racing ostriches, acrobatic parachutists, whirlpool spas, vegetable slicer-dicers, carnival rides and games, popular grandstand entertainers and spectacular fireworks have been added to the offerings and exhibitions of the first Fair. Today's San Diego County Fair now attracts crowds of more than 1.3 million over its annual three-week run, and has been among the nation's top 10 fairs for many years.
The Grandstand, the most prominent building on the Fairgrounds, was re-built over a two-year period in 1992 and 1993. Because construction forced the Grandstand Stage into the Infield where the traditional July Fourth fireworks were set off, the fireworks show was cancelled in 1992, much to the dismay of party-planning residents that lived in the hills surrounding the Fairgrounds. But the new complex, which included several adjoining buildings and the horse arena, added much more display space, not only for the annual Fair and horse racing season, but also for the many consumer and trade shows that rent the facilities during the Fair's off-season.
In 1985, the California Association of Racing Fairs (CARF) was formed, and the following year, this group introduced off-track satellite horse race wagering to the state. The 22nd District Agricultural Association started offering satellite wagering in 1987, and built its off-track wagering facility, Surfside Race Place, in 1991.
In the 1990s, Fairgrounds officials added two annual events to round out the entertainment calendar. The Holiday of Lights, a December display of lighted and animated holiday scenes set around the racetrack, began in 1995; and The Scream Zone, a haunted house popular with teens, started in 1998. The Del Mar National Horse Show, once a part of the annual Fair and now a separate event, celebrated its 65th anniversary in 2010. But the County Fair remains the most important event, and Fair staff works year-round to plan the exhibits, contests and entertainment that symbolize the beginning of summer for many San Diego County residents.
Major musical entertainment, rides, games and shopping are important Fair attractions, but the San Diego County Fair still considers the showcasing of agriculture to be its most important activity. The Paul Ecke Jr. Flower and Garden Show displays ornamental plants, a very important San Diego County product, and the Junior Livestock Auction is still one of the most popular events each year.
Under the sponsorship of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, the exhibition that takes place each year at the Del Mar Fairgrounds has operated under the names of San Diego Fair and Citrus Show, Southern California Exposition, The Del Mar Fair, and the currently familiar San Diego County Fair. Although it is a state agency, the 22nd DAA uses no tax dollars to operate the Fairgrounds. Its operating revenue is generated entirely by the Fair and other activities on the grounds. The 22nd DAA has an annual operating budget in excess of $50 million (approximately $20 million of which is the budget for the Fair), employs a full-time, year-round staff of nearly 160, and is the source of seasonal employment for more than 3,000 people.
The San Diego County Fair has played an important part in the history and growth of San Diego County — and continues its efforts to meet the needs and surpass the expectations of today's Fairgoers.
"Bienvenidos, Amigos - Welcome, Friends"