The smell of savory chicken legs, endless wacky carnival games and the sight of hogs racing.
For the past two years, these enduring hallmarks of the Los Angeles County Fair have taken a back seat to the coronavirus pandemic.
Fairplex in Pomona, home to the fair, shifted gears in March 2020 from funnel cakes, expos and concerts to food drives, vaccination and testing clinics and, for a few months last year, temporary shelter for nearly 10,000 migrant children.
Now organizers are preparing to welcome fairgoers back May 5 to celebrate the LA County Fair’s centennial anniversary. Season passes and general admission tickets go on sale Tuesday, Jan. 25.
This year’s theme – Back To Our Roots – reflects on the fair’s first 10 decades, paying tribute to its humble beginnings in 1922 as a small agricultural exposition in a beet and barley field.
The fair has since transformed into an annual gathering for multiple generations of families across Southern California, typically welcoming more than 1 million guests during its 19-day run.
Following its cancellation in 2020 and a scaled-down version in September in response to the pandemic, the 2022 fair has been carefully planned out by organizers for a full-scale return this year, said Fairplex CEO and President Walter M. Marquez.
“These last two years were really an opportunity to expand on the memories made here. We looked at ways that we can celebrate what makes the fair so special to so many generations of people: the cotton candy, the rides, music,” Marquez said. “These are all part of memories made here and we’re looking forward to making new ones in 2022.”
One obvious change this year is the earlier – and cooler, organizers hope – season for the fair. The organizers announced last year the fair would move to May to get away from the sweltering Septembers of recent years. The fair will run May 5-30, 2022, and operate only Thursday through Sunday, opening with a Cinco de Mayo celebration and ending on Memorial Day.
Live music will make its return to the fair, with 14 nights of entertainment. The lineup is expected to be announced in February, according to Fairplex.
As part of the 100th anniversary celebration, the fair will pay homage to its past with an exhibition in the Millard Sheets Art Center, featuring archival findings from fairgoers, as well as artists’ interpretations of the centennial.
The flower and garden pavilion will celebrate the centennial through floral displays and vignettes. Meanwhile, the Haunt Show exhibit is returning and will feature its 100 Years of Monsters museum, Fairplex said.
On the food side, Hot Dog on a Stick will offer a retro food stand with employees dressed in historical uniforms. Fair organizers are looking to bring back other old-time favorites, according to a news release.
For the first time since 2007, students will showcase their animals as part of the Future Farmers of America competition, said farm manager and horticulturist Don DeLano, who anticipates 10 local schools will participate.
The public can also expect larger petting zoo areas to accommodate for crowd-control concerns, DeLano said. More than 100 petting zoo animals will be part of this year’s event, he added.
“It’s nice to be able to get people back, for a while it was sad here. You really do miss everything that comes with the fair,” DeLano said. “I’d hope the animals are also excited too.”
Anticipation for the fair’s return goes beyond the fairgrounds. MacPherson’s Ice Cream, which has operated a booth at the fair every year since 1922, is ready to get back to Pomona, said Schuyler MacPherson.
“We only do our ice cream at fairs, so there are people that you see once every year. You then miss that routine,” MacPherson said. “You don’t realize how much this event means until it’s gone.”
The ice cream business has stayed in the family since his great-grandfather started it, MacPherson said. Its three flavors – vanilla, chocolate and its recent addition, Dole Whip – have made the ice cream booth one of the fair’s most popular concessions, MacPherson said.
Connected to the fair for multiple generations, the MacPherson family has a unique perspective. The last time the LA County Fair went dark was during World War II, from 1942 to 1947. MacPherson said he never thought he’d deal personally deal with a closure at the fair.
“I can remember my grandparents talking about during World War II and how the fair was closed during those years and I can remember being a kid saying, ‘boy, that would never happen to us again’ and now here we are,” MacPherson said . “But we’re still here and going stronger than ever.”
The LA County Fair is one of 40 scheduled events this year at Fairplex as it “cautiously reenters the indoor events market after a two year hiatus,” wrote Fairplex spokeswoman Renee Hernandez in an email. The entertainment venue has expos and car events scheduled for the months leading to the fair.
Also significant this year, is the small number of staff putting the fair together, only 48 full-time employees, according to Hernandez. That number is a small jump from the 33 workers Fairplex had in February 2021 but a major drop from 131 workers it employed in 2019.
In November 2020, Fairplex announced the economic toll of the pandemic led to layoffs of more than half of its full-time employees, leaving 28 full-time workers at the Pomona venue at that time. Various entertainment venues in the region made similar decisions in the aftermath of the health emergency.
Barring any unforeseen change in the trajectory of the pandemic, the fair will officially make its centennial return in May, Marquez said. It’s a two year wait that only the fair could make worthwhile, he said.
“To be able to welcome the community back to Fairplex after two years and it be our centennial celebration as well, you couldn’t ask for more,” Marquez said. “There’s nothing else like it.”
For tickets and information, visit lacountyfair.com.