Plans for Cal Expo were inaugurated in 1948 with the purchase of 1,000 acres of land along the American River. Cal Expo remained on the drawing board until the 1960s, when construction began.
In 1968 Governor Ronald Reagan opened the Fair at the "Cal Expo" site, which covers over 350 acres.
The road to the creation of Cal Expo began with the state’s 1948 purchase of 1,000 undeveloped acres, which would partially be used as the site of the new fairgrounds.
It was not until the early 1960s, however, that funds were allocated and more specific planning began for the construction of the Cal Expo fair site, which would replace the Stockton Boulevard fair site, which opened in 1909.
One of the most notable events leading to the opening of Cal Expo occurred prior to the 1967 California State Fair, which was the last State Fair held at the old fairgrounds.
On May 22, 1967, the new, 630-acre fair site was dedicated by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan during a 25-minute ceremony, which began at 2 p.m. on a platform at the base of the American River levee.
The ceremony, which was held on a very hot day, in which temperatures reached 106 degrees on the platform and 103 degrees in the shade, drew 300 people, including various state officials and other distinguished guests.
During his brief speech, Reagan told the crowd that Cal Expo would represent “the best of the past, in which the State Fair (would) preserve a slice of Americana; and it (would) be a window into the future.”
California Sen. Albert Rodda, who authored the legislation for Cal Expo in 1963, also spoke at the ceremony, saying, “I am confident of (Cal Expo’s) success. The state is ready for it and it cannot fail. We are providing an exposition that will show all heritage, spirit and culture of the state of California.”
The event culminated as Reagan, with his wife Nancy at his side, unveiled a dedicatory, bronze plaque, which read: “California Exposition. ‘To serve the needs of the people of California.’ Dedicated May 22, 1967. Ronald Reagan, governor.”
While Ronald and Nancy Reagan remained standing next to the plaque, a crane lowered a large, heavy, outline map of the state of California toward a concrete base. Ronald Reagan then helped lower it onto the base, which was created with sand from all 58 California counties.
Above the Reagans and other attendees, fireworks were launched, aerial rockets exploded and small American flags attached to little parachutes made their way to the ground.
The ceremony also included performances by the University of California, Davis band.
Developing the grounds
With only a year prior to the opening of Cal Expo, the race began to have the grounds and its buildings completed in time for the 1968 State Fair.
Throughout 1967 and up until the opening of Cal Expo, local media provided those living in the region with information about the future and continual status of the site.
Cal Expo has been the home of the California State Fair since 1968. (Photo by Lance Armstrong)Cal
Prior to the construction of Cal Expo, for instance, The Sacramento Bee showed an artist’s rendition of the future fairgrounds’ nine-acre, $3.8 million complex, which was designed by the San Francisco firm, Wurster, Bernardi and Emmons, and would consist of “modernistic” buildings with changing exhibits depicting the state’s rich culture and heritage.
As the grounds continued to develop, The Bee and other news media presented views of the future fairgrounds, which also included a variety of water features.
Built at a cost of $33 million, Cal Expo was eventually completed in time for the opening of the 1968 State Fair.
Although many people were saddened to see the old fairgrounds close, nonetheless much excitement surrounded the opening of the new fairgrounds, which featured its aforementioned eight-building Exposition Center, its three-building Exhibits Complex, a spacious grandstand with permanent seating for 7,000 overlooking a one-mile race track, an outdoor arena and a midway and concessions area.
The fair, which also features the Raging Waters water park, a permanent monorail system, the Sept. 11 Memorial Park and its iconic water tower, was officially opened by Ronald Reagan at its Cal Expo site on August 26, 1968.
Since its opening, Cal Expo has been home to the creation of many memories.
The Cal Expo water tower is a longtime iconic landmark of the fairgrounds. (Photo by Lance Armstrong)
Artist Ann Ragland Bowns of Citrus Heights said that she has loved Cal Expo since she first visited the fairgrounds in 1968.
“I was an art demonstrator there (at the 1968 State Fair),” Bowns said. “I love the (Cal Expo) fair and I still love the buildings up there at the Expo Center. The water features are one of the most spectacular and enjoyable things at (Cal Expo) and I also like to look at the farm animals.”
Greg Kinder, a deputy manager for the State Fair, said that during his youth “a lot of times (going to the fair at Cal Expo) was the highlight of the summer.”
Cal Expo, which has been home to a wide variety of other events, ranging from the Sacramento County Fair, the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee and the Sacramento Autorama to the Governor’s Inaugural Ball, concerts and many horseracing events, continues to serve the community.
But after four decades of providing many fond memories for many people in the region and throughout the state, Cal Expo remains in limbo.
Meanwhile, efforts to provide a larger and more improved State Fair continue.
In an attempt to increase the fair’s attendance, during an Oct. 9, 2009 meeting, the California Exposition and State Fair Board of Directors voted to have the fair open in July, beginning with the 2010 fair.
Influencing the board’s decision was the fact that since 2003, many California schools had begun their school years prior to Labor Day – the day that had traditionally become the final day of the fair each year. Of additional concern to the board was the fact that this trend was scheduled to increase with the vast majority of the schools within the fair’s target geographic area in 2010.
The fair board also recognized state employee furloughs as another reason for decreased attendance in 2009.
Cal Expo will host its 42nd State Fair from July 14 to August 1.
As for the possibility of a relocation of the fairgrounds or perhaps a revamping of the current fairgrounds, only time will tell. (Lance Armstrong,valleycommunitynewspapersinc)
|Good Old days|
It has disassembled the Cal Expo Amphitheater, a 14,500-seat venue which was operated by Bill Graham Presents until the late 1990s. That lease expired. Graham had put on between 18 and 30 shows a year, mostly rock 'n' roll. Neighbors across the river and in several neighborhoods complained for years about the noise, and when Graham proposed enlarging the venue, the city balked.
Jerry performed here on
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