Take Me to the Fair: Then and Now

The very first California State Fair was held in San Francisco on October 4, 1854, drawing more than 5,000 visitors. The fair was held in a different city each year, with Sacramento hosting in 1855. When the fair returned to Sacramento in 1859, it was decided that a permanent site should be found. By 1860, a six-block site bounded by E, H, and 20th and 22nd streets was purchased and was home to the state fair for the next fifty years. An Agricultural Hall at 6th and M streets was used for exhibitions until 1884 when a new exposition hall, completed in 1884, was built at 15th and N streets in Capitol Park.

Increased attendance at the State Fair forced the purchase of 80 acres just outside the (then) city limits on Stockton Boulevard. The first fair was held there in 1909. The admission price was 50 cents, which had remained unchanged for 39 years. Continued growth caused that site to be expanded by 75 acres in 1937. By the 1950s, the State Fair annually was attracting 750,000 attendees, considered a top attraction in America through the 1950s and one of the top five fairs in the nation. It was a boon to Stockton Boulevard bringing jobs and tourism dollars to the community.

In 1968, the California State Fair moved to its current location at Cal Expo. Much of the old fairgrounds acreage, acquired by the UC Davis Medical Center, stretched for almost a mile north and east from Stockton Boulevard and Broadway. Two remaining historic structures still stand at that intersection. Currently vacant, the majestic Governor’s Hall marked the entrance to the fair. The adjacent Agricultural Pavilion (2921 Stockton Boulevard) now houses the UC Davis Clinical Transactional Science Center. The Center is one of approximately 60 National Institutes of Health-supported centers funded to facilitate and accelerate the study of human health and disease to bring new treatments to patients and communities through biomedical research.

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