Who says it never rains in Southern California? Certainly not the National Orange Show (NOS) Festival folks. In fact, there is a San Bernardino legend that the annual opening of this event "always marks rain for the usually dry Southern California residents."
Over the years, there have been many such openings. The NOS website traces the roots of this festival back to the 1800s. In 1857, the very first orange trees (only six in all) were brought to the San Bernardino Valley. Fairly soon afterwards, orange grower Lewis F. Cram was showing a net profit of $1,757 (which was worth quite a bit in those days) from only an acre and three-quarters of such giving trees.
By 1910, there were at least 100,000 acres of California orange trees, which yielded $200 million worth of California navel orange sales. It's no wonder that the city's Orange Show (which had been around since the late 1800s) went national the following year. It was time to really spread the word about the wonders that were sprouting from the good earth of San Bernardino.
In 1911 tents were pitched at Fourth and "D" Streets, and the fledgling National Orange Show was good to go. The website explains that this event has taken place every year since then - "with the exception of four years during World War II."
Activerain.com tells us that during its heyday, the National Orange Show was considered to be "California's Greatest Midwinter Event." With "one of the largest and finest exposition buildings in the nation," the show was drawing "over 300,000 visitors each year."
Eventually, "NOS The Festival" slowly began manifesting "A New Shade of Orange." This new shade was not only tinged with the bright-colored hues of the world's favorite vitamin-C source, but it was also dyed in the wool of sheep and the milk of cows. In other words, what began as a citrus show eventually embraced all that agriculture has to offer - along with much more.
As Director of Marketing Tony Fiori stated, "It's all good." In addition to "a homegrown appreciation of California oranges" and an overall agricultural awareness - today's festival also emphasizes "commitment to the community, entertainment for the whole family," and
the creation of "a program that fits the needs of local educators."
Inland Entertainment Weekly heralded the "awesome change of pace" at this year's festival. Among the "huge throwdowns and fights" of Lucha Libre Mexicana, the "death defying acts" of the BMX stunt show, and the anti-gravity antics of the Acrobats of Hebei China - there was just no room for boredom. Even those that craved a more lighthearted atmosphere were able to find their niche with the mariachi band and the car show.
The NOS Facebook page describes the 2013 event in the following manner: "Five days of music, food, world-class carnival and midway, indoor and outdoor shopping, petting zoo, pig races, circus and animal acts, hypnotists, clowns, juried art show," plus "Fiesta Days" on Saturday and Sunday. Which just goes to show: Man (woman, too) was not meant to live by oranges alone.
Even the fairgrounds has undergone a complete makeover. Long gone are the citrus-laden tents, and in their stead is the ever-growing National Orange Show Events Center (which is not only the name of the site, but also the name of the non-profit association that operates the year-round events that occur there).
The Center's website tells us that their first permanent exhibition hall burnt down in 1949. Within only eight months, "a new and larger exhibition building was ready for use." Shortly thereafter, two more buildings were added (one for commercial/industrial exhibits, the other
for features/trade shows).
This incredible rate of creativity has not slowed down over the years. The Center currently includes 150,000 square feet of indoor exhibition space and "spans over 120 acres." It can "accommodate more than 40,000 attendees and park approximately 8,000 cars." Highlights also include "a quarter mile speedway" and a "state-of-the-art satellite wagering center."
The Center's mission of promoting the citrus industry, managing family-friendly events, and supporting the community is very much alive. The annual National Orange Show Festival remains an integral part of this mission. It, too, is continually evolving.
Tony Fiori explained that it's "no longer a citrus fair - it's a festival." He added that the Festival dates were also changed in order "to increase the volume." This year's admission price was $5, which Fiori said was the "same as last year."
Children under 10 were admitted free, and carnival wristbands sold for $15. Season passes, which included admission and unlimited rides for all five days, were $50 apiece. General-admission parking was $5, and preferred parking was $10.
Pricing information was all readily available on the Festival's Facebook page. This eye-catching announcement followed: "All Entertainment Free With Admission!" Fiori explained that social media "is a new program we're evolving, and it's coming along quite well."
The Carnival/Midway was provided by Ray Cammack Shows, Inc. (RCS) out of Laveen, Arizona. Their combination of Games, Rides and Foods is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. An article from the San Bernardino Sun quotes someone who just staggered off of the Zipper: "Right now I can't believe that I did that... But I'm really glad I did."
Because there are only so many oranges a body can absorb, the midway food offered plenty of variety. All the standard fair favorites were there - and then some. Fiori waxed particularly eloquently about the deep-fried red velvet cake (which sounded like a red-hot seller).
From tiny acorns, great oaks grow - and from tiny orange seeds, great traditions grow. Who knew back in 1911 that those citrus tents would yield to a whole new paradigm. But change is the name of the game - in life, as in fairs... The National Orange Show Festival is a sweet testamentto that rule of thumb.