A story gave an incorrect last name for the 1948 queen of the Alameda County Fair. She is Mavis Williams.
By Denis Cuff
PLEASANTON -- Chariots and motorcycles raced. Adults competed for prizes to create best gopher trap, parasol, manure spreader and hand-churned butter in the first Alameda County Fair a century ago.
Children competed in a penmanship contest with a $1.50 prize given for the best handwriting from a school with only one or two teachers.
Clydesdale horses were exhibited, but not as stars looking for glory as in the modern-day Budweiser beer commercials. They were true workhorses -- one of 69 categories of horses in the 1912 fair.
Mules had their own show division.
This is how the Bay Area's largest county fair began. It's an event that has evolved through the years as organizers strove to keep pace with progress and celebrate agrarian life, local culture and provide "gee whiz" entertainment for the masses.
"The fair is a public display of what Alameda County can do," said Clark Redeker, a fair board member from 1955 to 2005. "Things have changed in some ways and not others. We have to keep up with the times."
In this year's centennial fair that runs from Wednesday through July 8, the aroma of corn dogs, funnel cakes and chocolate covered bacon will permeate the hot summer air of the Pleasanton fairgrounds.
Children will giggle and
The fair is still a big draw, even without the motorcycle racing, shooting people out of cannons, donkey riding, harness racing, car destruction derby and aerial tram.
A century ago, the fair was smaller. The 1912 event had fewer rides but a greater variety of farm animals on display for fairgoers who arrived on two trains each morning at the Pleasanton station.
Although a light rain fell on opening day back then, the Oakland Tribune reported, the sun later shone to dry out the flags on display throughout Pleasanton and heated things up for a brass band concert.
It was an occasion to look forward to.
"It was a small town," Mavis Williams said, "and we grew up with the fair. It was always something to look forward to. We got excited when one of the jockeys at the fairgrounds would ride over to my family's market and tie up his horse on a big hitching post."
Williams, a Pleasanton native, won the 1948 beauty pageant and the grand prize -- a watch -- by selling the most fair tickets.
She cleaned up by cornering salesmen at her parents' Pleasanton market, which was called Fiorio's for the family name.
Tiffany Burrow, a Livermore resident, said she was among the last people to compete in a buggy riding competition at the fair some 15 years ago.
"Not many people have the access to the equipment, horses and places to practice it today," said Burrow, now the fair exhibition supervisor. "We would bring it back if enough people wanted to do it."
Harness racing debuted with the fair in 1912 as a way to show which animals were good at pulling buggies or carriages to transport people, but it ended in 1968 and the inner track ultimately became a golf course.
Thoroughbred horse racing remains a big draw, but the Alameda County fair racetrack crowds are not as consistently big as in the 1960s and 1970s when John Anderson was a youngster watching his parents train horses there.
"Now you have satellite racing where people can watch the fair races at a satellite facility without driving to Pleasanton," said John Anderson, a Pleasanton horse trainer. "You still get a lot of people coming to watch the horse races. You get grandparents bringing their grandchildren to watch the races."
The Alameda County Fair owes its start to horse racing and the one-mile track that fair officials say is the longest continuously operating one in America.
In 1859, Augustin Bernal built the racetrack in Pleasanton on a portion of his family's large Mexican land grant.
Rodney MacKenzie, the son of a railroad tycoon, purchased the track in 1911, and joined other community leaders the following year to create a fair association. They sold $100 certificates to raise $10,000 to pay to construct other buildings and improvements.
Phoebe Hearst, mother of famed newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, loaned some workers from her Pleasanton estate to help prepare the fairgrounds for the first fair.
Hearst would get a payback of sorts the following year as Hearst's ranch cleaned up as the 1913 fair's sweepstakes winner for the best and most varied exhibit of farm produce.
Produce, farm animals and other traditional attractions are still part of the mix.
A hypnotist remains a popular mainstay, getting people to cluck like chickens while on stage just as they did years ago.
And the free evening concerts are still popular -- sometimes almost too popular.
Redeker, the former fair board member, recalled some anxious moments at one fair when there wasn't room for thousands of people to hear two scheduled singing performances of Donny and Marie Osmond.
"There was a near riot," Redeker recalled of the crowd demanding a third show. "Donny didn't want to do a third show, but Marie talked him into it. In the end, everyone was happy."
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.
1859 -- Augustin Bernal builds racetrack in Amador Valley at its current site in Pleasanton.
1859 -- A floral and vegetable fair is held in downtown Oakland in June until 1866. A fair is held in Hayward between 1866 and 1868.
1911 -- Rodney MacKenzie, son of a railroad tycoon, buys the racetrack and spends some $250,000 to add a grandstand.
1912 -- MacKenzie and other businessmen spearhead effort to form a fair by selling $100 certificates to finance new buildings. They raise $10,000.
1914 -- Fair ends in financial trouble and is not be held again until 1939.
1933 -- California Legislature legalizes parimutuel betting to raise revenue for county fairs
1936 -- Charles Howard's famous racehorse Seabiscuit trains at the Pleasanton track for 10 days.
1939 -- First modern fair is held after Alameda County Agricultural Association is formed to promote and encourage agriculture, stock raising and manufacturing and to promote Alameda County as a prosperous place to live. There are four carnival rides
1939 to present -- Many improvements are made to fairground.
Source: Alameda County Fair
ALAMEDA COUNTY FAIR
The Alameda County Fair will have a 17-day run from Wednesday to July 8. It is closed on Mondays.
Location: Alameda County Fairgrounds, 4501 Pleasanton Ave. (off Bernal Avenue), Pleasanton
Price: General admission is $10, $8 for seniors, $6 for ages 6-12. Younger children are free.
Extras. A free fireworks show will be presented on three Fridays, June 22 and 29 and July 6.
Music: Free concerts with the price of fair admission will be held at 7 p.m. each night in the amphitheater with first-come, first-served seating. Among the acts are Tower of Power on Wednesday, Salt-N-Pepa on Sunday, Rick Springfield on June 28, America on June 29, and Kellie Pickler on July 8.
Parade: A fair parade with floats and marching bands will start 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Amador Valley High School in Pleasanton and proceed down Main Street to the fairgrounds.
For fair information, visit alamedacountyfair.com.