In the heart of the Antelope Valley, a sprawling fairground comes to life each year, drawing families, friends and neighbors together to celebrate a tradition that has spanned over a century.
The Antelope Valley Fair, a beloved annual event, is a vibrant tapestry of history, agriculture, entertainment and community spirit.
The fair will be returning Sept. 22, bringing to life its mission statement, “To serve as a well-managed, safe, multi-purpose, year-round facility which meets the diverse educational and entertainment needs of the residents and families of the Antelope Valley.
“The A.V. Fair Association will be innovative in planning and growth while protecting the public’s investment, maintaining sensitivity to our environment and preserving and caring for our agricultural heritage while creating new cultural traditions.”
A Glimpse into the Past
The Antelope Valley Fair began in the late 1910s when it was nothing more than a local street gathering, complete with ribbons as its sole recognition.
It formally transformed into a fair in 1938 when local farmers joined forces, donating land spanning 80 acres in the Antelope Valley.
Three years later, in 1941, they petitioned the state to become an agricultural association, therefore aligning with the majority of fairs across California. The property was officially handed over to the state, marking the birth of the 50th District Agricultural Association in 1941.
Fast forward to 2003, and the fair faced a pivotal moment in its history. The Antelope Valley Fairgrounds were relocated to a 135-acre plot adjacent to a freeway, in collaboration with the city of Lancaster.
This move, referred to as the “new fairgrounds,” celebrated its 20th anniversary on July 1. The shift ushered in an era of growth, with new buildings, barns and show arenas.
The fairgrounds boast modern amenities and have undergone a significant renovation that is set to continue with a $100 million project slated to break ground in 2024.
Evolution with a Nod to Tradition
As with any longstanding event, maintaining a fresh appeal while preserving cherished traditions can be challenging.
According to AV Fair & Event Center CEO Dan Jacobs, the AV Fair achieves this balance by introducing incremental changes each year. While change can be met with resistance, particularly among those who hold fond memories of past fairs, the goal is to create a dynamic experience that combines the familiar with the new.
“What I have found is people, they create memories,” said Jacobs. “So, a lot of times if that changes, then it’s not theirs anymore.”
The fair’s attractions span a wide spectrum, catering to diverse tastes and all age groups.
The carnival, livestock exhibits, and entertainment acts consistently rank among the most popular attractions.
“If you have really young children, the parents really want to share with them an experience of seeing the animals for the first time,” said Jacobs. “If you’ve been here a number of years, then a lot of it is, OK, I want to do the same thing again because I had so much fun last year.”
Jacobs aptly describes the Antelope Valley Fair as “not just an event, but 100 events within one big event.”
The Heart of the Community
What sets the Antelope Valley Fair apart is its deep-rooted connection to the local community. Much like other fairs across California, it has evolved into a quintessential gathering place.
Throughout its history, the fair has been where friends and neighbors come together, forging and rekindling relationships.
“When my wife and I first started going out, one of our first dates was the fair,” said Jacobs. “I was so amazed because I wasn’t born here … I came here after college. I didn’t know anywhere near as many people as she did.”
“We would walk, take five steps and there she would be, talking to somebody else she knew and hadn’t seen them in a year. Ten more steps, she’d be talking to somebody else. I couldn’t be any more amazed. It is just rekindling those relationships that she had created prior. It was just amazing.
“You see so many people here that see so many people that they know. The Antelope Valley, it’s still a growing community, but it really is still a small-town experience a lot of times when you go to the fair.”
A Showcase of Talent and Craftsmanship
At the core of the Antelope Valley Fair is a celebration of local talent and craftsmanship.
The fair’s roots in agriculture and farming are still evident today, with competitions ranging from livestock exhibitions to home arts and crafts.
Fairgoers can explore a diverse range of displays and competitions, from quilting and table settings to culinary contests, all competing for coveted blue ribbons.
These competitions not only showcase the community’s creativity but also provide an opportunity for individuals to test their skills against their peers.
“Fairs were really developed for local competition,” said Jacobs. “Whether it was animals, home arts, showcas(ing) new ideas, new machinery, new farm equipment, new home appliances, that’s really where fairs came from and developed.”
Jacobs said every year he hears about the anticipation for the fair’s return.
“I think it goes back to, it’s different for everyone, but the thing that we see is the anticipation that this fair is going to open again this time of year, so they get that feeling of, ‘I get to go back to the fair, I get to see people that perhaps I haven’t seen in a long, long time,’” said Jacobs.
“I look at it as somebody who’s bringing their kids who’s never been to the fair before, it’s that excitement, that wonder, that they get to see when their kids see things for the very first time and they won’t probably see them until the fair comes next year and then it’s also the people that have been here for, you know, perhaps their whole life and they’re coming back to relive or re-experience those memories that they created years prior.
“There’s plenty of people that go to the L.A. County Fair, Orange County Fair that are from here, and there’s plenty of people from those areas that come here,” said Jacobs, “but what I think makes it special is how it makes the people who live here, who this is their fair, how it makes them feel when they come here. They know more people. It’s just more familiar, the surroundings to them, and I think that’s what makes it special.”