Fresno Fair Introduces Big New Museum

Oct 09, 2013 No Comments by

FRESNO – A treasure trove of well over 1,000 antique items are now on display at The Big Fresno Fair, with each piece having a story from the fair’s 130 years of history.

All of the items in the Big Fresno Fair Museum, ranging from photographs to awards, have historical value.  Some were donated, and others purchased.  The gathering of the memorabilia took over two years, and since mid-March Big Fresno Fair CEO John Alkire spent weekends traveling in a truck hitting antique shops from Sacramento to Los Angeles and making contacts.



“It’s a combination of community support, donations, and having to go out and purchase the items,” Alkire said.

History comes alive when visitors are able to view poster-size photographs from Pop Laval’s collection with descriptive information, chronicling much of the fair’s past.  The first cotton candy machine, dating back to 1921, and the first popcorn machine from 1930 are also on display.  Perry Huffman, former artist for The Fresno Bee, generously donated much of his Big Fresno Fair drawings from his 33 years at the newspaper.  The oldest fair ribbon in the collection goes all the way back more than a hundred years ago to 1909.  Fair pennants from more than 100 years ago advertising can be seen as well.

One of the more unique items is an original Dogbone radiator cap, donated by the family of William “Bill” Vukovich, the Indianapolis 500 winner from 1953 and 1954.  Some of the objects in the museum let some viewers who previously unaware know that the horse racing track was at one time a wooden racing track, and that from 1942-1947 the fair was not held because the country was at war.  During some of that time, the fairgrounds served as a dispersal center for interned Japanese Americans.

The extensive collection is housed in the multi-purpose old board room behind the Paul Paul Theater on the fairgrounds.  Alkire said that in the future he might put the building on the midway and open it up year-round for school tours.  The structure was built in the 1940s, and donated by John O’Neill.

Fair management felt it was necessary to open the museum this year due to past fires that caused some scrapbooks and memorabilia to be destroyed.

“If we were going to do this museum we’d better do it now, and make sure that we really start to preserve and protect as quick as we can,” Alkire said.

Alkire says he knows of no other fair that has an extensive historical museum like The Big Fresno Fair now does.

“Really, more fairs ought to be doing it,” he said.  “It connects you with your community.”

Alkire said that when many people first heard that The Big Fresno Fair was opening a museum, they expected that for the first year the collection would include nothing more than a couple of programs and a small display of photographs.  Actually, the vintage items number to between 1,100 and 1,200.

“This is The Big Fresno Fair, we do things in a big way,” Alkire said.  “And if we can’t come out and do it in an aggressive manner and do it in a very professional manner we’re not going to do it.”

Education, Entertainment, Headlines

About the author

James Olinger is a native of the San Joaquin Valley. He graduated from West Hills College in Coalinga, California in 2000 with an associate's degree in liberal arts. He joined Business Street in 2004 as a staff writer, and became the associate editor in 2007. He maintains that position today, writing for Business Street Online in a variety of topics.
No Responses to “Fresno Fair Introduces Big New Museum”

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.