The onset of summer and the imminent arrival of July can only mean one thing in Santa Maria and around the county: The Santa Barbara County Fair is close at hand.

This year's edition, running under the theme "Picture the Fun," starts on Wednesday, July 10, and runs through Sunday, July 14, at the Santa Maria Fairpark.

The Santa Barbara County Fair, as we now know it, was first held in 1928, as recounted by original fair manager Jesse Chambers in the July 24, 1951 edition of the Santa Maria Times. Chambers said in the article that the first fair was held on East Main Street "and resulted from the action of the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs."

Fair Chambers Jul_30__1951_

Chambers was named the fair's first manager and held that title through 1951, when he got a grand sendoff on the last day of that fair.

By that time, the fair had settled in its current location after taking place at its original site in the 700 block of East Main Street, and then at Hancock Field which was located between Miller Street and College Drive in Santa Maria. 

The location at Thornburg Street and Stowell Road was known as the Santa Barbara County Fairgrounds for years, but changed its name to the Santa Maria Fairpark in 2000. The "Fairpark" name was adopted after the original choice, "Fairplex" met with some resistance from the Los Angeles County Fair down south, as recounted in this 2000 Santa Maria Times article.


For over eight decades, local residents have enjoyed the yearly activities, shows and rides at the fair, but one consistent aspect has been the livestock shows, as young Central Coast residents display the animals they've raised for eventual sale to local farmers and cattlemen.

This July 27, 1953 photo shows the aftermath of the sale of a 1,260-pound Angus steer raised by a young Henri Ardantz, who would go on to be one of the co-owners of the local Bonipak produce business.


The livestock shows and auctions are still a big part of the fair, as youngsters from the local 4-H and Grange clubs see the fruits of their labors, but also realize they have to say goodbye to the animals they've raised over the previous year. Those mixed feeling are illustrated in this 2017 photo.


Of course, for many kids who may or may not participate in the livestock competition, the best part of the fair, or any other fair, is the rides. For years fair-goers have enjoyed the thrills and chills of the attractions around the midway.


In fact, the rides are such a big part of the affair, the Times has sometimes been able to find a couple of thrill seekers to rate them for the paper, like 13-year-old Zach Peneranda and 12-year-old Kailee Stillwell did in 2009.


Another attraction to draw people to the fair is the live entertainment provided each night. Not only local talented performers, but nationally known artists. One example is county music superstar Trisha Yearwood, who took the main Fairpark stage in 1986.


Yearwood is one of several headliners who have performed for the fair's attendees, and that will continue in 2019 as Ashanti, Clay Walker, TLC and Maddie & Tae take the Main Stage over the course of the fair's run.

In another form of entertainment, fair-goers used to enjoy a yearly demolition derby — these two cars tangled at the 1998 fair in front of a cheering crowd.


While a lot of people go to the fair just to be entertained, many attend to enter their creations and/or wares to get a coveted blue ribbon. It could be for a flower arrangement, a work of art, a landscape project, or even a scrumptious chocolate cookie recipe like the one 10-year-old Kelsey Jones won for in 2005.


Whether it's the livestock shows, the rides, the entertainment or the countless other attractions, there's something for everyone at the Santa Barbara County Fair. And everyone has their favorite things, as seen by the varied answers to this "person on the street" survey conducted at the 1986 fair.


Next week the Santa Barbara County Fair will make new memories in 2019. Come "Picture the Fun," and enjoy this venerable tradition.

And don't miss out on your chance to experience our fair coverage over the years. We've moved over 100 years of our archives online to make it easier for you to experience the history of the valley. Subscribe to the Santa Maria Times and visit our archives to get access to our recently digitized historic issues.

You can also go online to sign up for a News+ Membership to support the Santa Maria Times and the local journalists who work to bring compelling local stories like this historic fair coverage to you every day. 


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