By MARTY RELLES, Valley Community Newspapers columnist
Back when I grew up, the Cal Expo only existed as a blue print on somebody’s drawing board. Instead, we had the California State Fairgrounds. It stood proudly at the intersection of Stockton Boulevard and Broadway in south Sacramento.
The stately brick building called the Governor’s Hall covered that corner and marked the entrance to the fair. Old Merlino’s Orange Freeze was right across the street from that entrance to the fair.
The old fairgrounds stretched for almost a mile north and east from that intersection. The western border of the fairgrounds stretched north from Broadway all the way up to X Street where it went east up to 48th Street then snaked in a southerly direction back towards Broadway. Unlike the modern Cal Expo, which seems a little cramped to me. The old State Fair spread out across a vast expanse of land.
We attended the old State Fair annually, usually on Kid’s Day (the first day of the fair) when kids got in for free. We always entered the fair at the north gate on approximately 48th Street. From there, we walked south down a broad avenue past a line of stately buildings.
First came the Hall of Flowers. We loved entering that building, not only because of the beautiful flowers on display, but because they kept it very cool to preserve the fresh cut flowers. A watery mist always seemed to fill the air in that building.
Next came the Counties Building, another beautiful brick edifice which featured exhibits from every one of California’s 58 counties. The theme of each county exhibit reflected the agriculture and industry which characterized that county. Placer County always featured a 49er panning for gold. Yolo County had rice and tomatoes. Los Angeles County showcased – what else – movies. The exhibits changed yearly and always fascinated us.
Next in the line of buildings came the Hall of Industry with vendors hawking their various wares including: blenders, choppers, window cleaners, etc. We loved that building because the vendors always offered samples to all, even the kids who never bought anything.
From there, the street through the fair turned east, headed for the carnival, our favorite stop, but not before passing the race track on the north, and livestock barns on the south.
Strangely enough, we loved walking through the livestock barns. The cows, sheep and pigs always fascinated us: a bunch of city boys who only saw animals at the zoo. Here we could literally reach in and pet the critters. Somehow that made them seem a lot more real than at the zoo.
Finally, came the carnival where we spent our hard-earned dimes and quarters on rides like the Ferris Wheel, the Hammer and the Tilt-a-Whirl. We played games like the Derby which emulated a real horse race. We drank soda pop, ate corn dogs and saw mysterious things like the two-headed boy and the bearded lady.
At night, they held outdoor dances adjacent to the carnival for the teen aged kids like we were at the time. In the early ’60s, the bands at the fair played surf music. Remember Wipeout? How about Dickey Dale and Deltones? A friend of ours, Danny Blakolb, actually played with a surf band at the fair. We danced, sang along and generally had a blast.
Days at the old State Fair always ended with fireworks at 9 p.m. They shot them off above a lake in the center of the old race track. Seeing the beautiful, if short, display always capped a great day of fun and adventure. It wasn’t Disneyland, but it was one heck of a lot of fun.
Our days of fun at the old State Fair are nothing but a long past memory to me now. I rarely attend Cal Expo. Somehow, its concrete structures don’t measure up to the brick buildings and tree-lined streets of the old fair – yet another cherished Janey Way Memory.