California Fairs Collection, MS 009
Western Fairs Association
The beginning of Western Fairs Association is usually ascribed to a post-World War I meeting at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco where a livestock circuit plan was agreed upon to "help the breeders and fairs" across the state. Records of WFA activity begin in 1933, although there are some financial summaries going back to the early 1920s. Annual meetings began in 1939 but were suspended during World War II.
In California fair history, 1933 is an important year because of the passage by the California voters of the Horse Racing Act, which allowed pari-mutuel betting with a portion of the revenues received by the state to be used for the support of agricultural fairs. From 1859 until 1934, fairs had been partially financed from the state's General Fund. Only eight fairs were in operation in 1933. By 1946 there were seventy-six.
In 1945 the Association was incorporated, a central office was established, and Louis S. Merrill, former Assistant Manager of the Fresno District Fair, was appointed General Manager.
For twenty-seven years Merrill was the chief executive officer of the Western Fairs Association. (See the Fair Dealer periodical for an accounting of his many accomplishments, especially the June/July 1972 issue.) Most notable among his contributions are the regular publication of a fairs trade journal as well as the annual Date List, the area concept of organization, the development of the judges' conference, the beginning of a lobbying group called Californians for Fairs, the Industry Purchase Plan, the fair management course at Cal Poly, the alliance with the vocational education program, and the continuing effective influence on the legislature in Sacramento.
The following people succeeded Merrill: William Clayton, 1972-1975; Robert R. Stern, 1975-1980; John J. Fitzpatrick, 1981-1983; and Kim Myrman, 1984-present. Early important staff members include: Rose E. Links, Secretary-Treasurer, 1943-1962; Joe Blenkle, Program and Service Division, 19 -1978; and Bonnie Scotland Merrill, Secretary, 1952-1973. In 1981 WFA had 1,215 members including 887 fair managers and directors, and 328 corporate concessionaires or service members.
Western Fairs Association membership categories include:
- Active Members: Individual fairs organized under provisions of the state
- Associate Members: Fairs organized and located outside of California
- Service Members: Business individuals or organizations which provide supplies, services and/or entertainment for fairs
- Affiliate Members: Horse breeding associations, community fairs, privately owned fairs, rodeos, etc.
Joint Committee on Fairs Allocation and Classification
This committee was established in 1959 by an amendment to Section 92.7 of the State Agricultural Code. At that time, it replaced a fairs classification committee that had been created in 1955 and whose membership was made up of elected fair officials and representatives of the division of Fairs and Exposition and the Department of Finance. Since 1959, it has been composed of seven senators and seven members of the assembly. Its first chair was Senator Edwin J. Regan, 1959-1973, followed by Assembly Member Pauline L. Davis, 1973-1977. Brian L. Davie has served as chief consultant since 1971.
The Committee has been given the authority by law to "investigate, study and analyze any and all facts relating to the operation and financing of (state-supported) fairs." It holds hearings regularly throughout the state and issues reports.
Division of Fairs and Exposition
Established under the Department of Agriculture, this Division was transferred to the Department of Finance in the 1930s. In 1965, it became an agency of the Department of Food and Agriculture. The Division is responsible for the preparation of the annual Master Premium List, a manual prescribed by law "to assist in administering the offering and payment of awards" for each category of competition at state-supported fairs, from beef cattle to vegetables to domestic science.
A.E. Snider, Thomas E. Blair, Ray Harrington, George J. Gomes, and John Fitzpatrick have provided leadership of the Division through the years. Harrington is best remembered as the person who did the research on the Horse Racing Act of 1933, which made the present system of fairs possible.
The division deals with the administration of state-supported fairs, except the California State Fair, now called CAL EXPO, which in the early 1960s was moved to the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Fair Dealer, June/July 1972