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Vintage San Diego: Fair Ground

San Diego County Fair circa 1939


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San Diego County Fair circa 1936 Share your vintage photo of San Diego! Send your pic and story to erinm@sandiegomagazine.com.

Originally an agricultural fair for local farmers, the San Diego County Fair has grown and evolved since 1880. After shifting locations (including Balboa Park) several times, the Fair was forced into hiatus during the Great Depression.

In 1933, the state’s decision to legalize horseracing and gambling helped bring the event back to life, this time in Del Mar, chosen for its proximity to the 101 and the Santa Fe railroad line.

If the photo above was taken in 1936, the tightrope walker (center) is headlining act Bunny Dryden. Rancho Santa Fe resident, actor, and horse breeder Bing Crosby served as honorary steward of the harness races, and Barbara Watson was crowned Queen of the Fair (aka “Fairest of the Fair,” a competition which continued until 2004). Rain dampened the festivities, which took place October 8–18, prompting a move to June and July a few years later, and the fair has kept its home in those months and on those grounds ever since.

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