Attendance was unfortunately down somewhat this year at the National Orange Show, held over the Memorial Day Weekend in San Bernardino, California.
About 30,000 people came through the main gates over the five-day fair, said CEO Dan Jimenez. He couldn't say exactly how much of a decline that was over previous years, but he did say that the slight decline wasn't unexpected. It's the demographics of the community surrounding San Bernardino, he said, a national recession that has affected the area, the closing of a major military facility a few years back, competition from the regional San Bernardino County fair held the same weekend as well as competition from large theme parks.
Holding up against the stiff competition and unfortunate circumstances hasn't been easy, Jimenez said, but it has been worth it.
"I'm really proud of what we're able to do here," he said. "There are a lot of young people out there whose parents can't afford the cost of the big-name theme parks. The Orange Show provides them with clean, wholesome entertainment they can afford. Our goal has always been an enjoyable experience. We provide a great atmosphere for families at a very affordable price."
There are two citrus shows held in California, Jimenez said, and the San Bernardino, Memorial Day event is one of them. The fair was first developed in 1889, when the area around San Bernardino was wrapped in citrus groves. The National Orange Show has made a major economic and cultural impact on the area.
The first orange introduced in the area was one known as the Washington Naval Orange, first brought to the area in 1873. The orange was a Latin American mutation of a variety from the Iberian Peninsula named for its "belly button" at the blossom end. The fruit soon became a major catalyst for the development of California's citrus industry, according to the history of the festival.
As the history goes, a man named Anson Van Leuven brought the first orange trees - only six of them at first - to the San Bernardino Valley from the San Gabriel Valley in 1857. In 1869, Lewis F. Cram was given the opportunity to buy 500 trees but chose to buy only enough root stock to plant less than two acres. By 1887, he had shown a net profit of $1,757, over $1,100 net per acre. It was considered a fortune in those days.
In 1873, the U.S. Department of Agriculture sent two of those original orange trees to Eliza Tibbets. The prolific production of the trees, with the incredible quality and taste of the oranges, won awards at major expositions. The woman soon had a booming business selling buds from her tree stock.
By 1910, one year before the National Orange Show began, at least 100,000 acres in California were planted with the orange trees, and California naval orange sales had reached $200 million. A series of citrus fairs were held in the 1880s and 1890s. The world's first citrus fair was staged in Riverside in February of 1879. That's when the Washington Navel orange was first exhibited, and its superior qualities were recognized. The fair was such a success that a second fair followed in February 1880, and a third in March of 1881. The citizens of Riverside were so happy with the outcome that they turned the fair into an annual event and actually erected a pavilion for the fair in 1882.
Annual citrus fairs were held in Riverside, except for one or two that were held in Colton, until 1891. At the same time, similar fairs were being held in Los Angeles and San Bernardino County.
Those were the days, said Jimenez.
"This area was a big, big orange area," he said.
But things have changed. Not only have the majority of the orange groves become a thing of the past, but the San Bernardino area has also changed in many ways.
For example, San Bernardino, is the poorest city of its population size in California. It's the second poorest in the United States next to Detroit, Michigan. The National Orange Show Events Center contains the Orange Pavilion, a stadium, two large clear-span exhibition halls, a clear-span geodesic dome and several ballrooms.
San Bernardino hosts several major annual events, including the Route 66 Rendezvous, a four-day celebration of America's "Mother Road" that is held in San Bernardino each September, the Berdoo Bikes and Blues Rendezvous, held in the spring, and the Western Regional Little League Championships held each August, as well as the annual anniversary of the birth of the Mother Charter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, Berdoo California Chapter.
The San Bernardino area has cool to chilly winters and hot, dry summers. The highest recorded summer temperatures are around 117 degrees. In the winter, snow flurries occur upon occasion. The city lies in the San Bernardino foothills and the eastern portion of the San Bernardino Valley, roughly 60 miles east of Los Angeles.
Jimenez said that the weather during the Orange Show was - "beautiful, just beautiful," with pleasant days and moonlit nights, a perfect atmosphere to stroll the grounds and enjoy the entertainment. All of the entertainment was covered by the admission price. There was an $8 charge for adults, which was reduced to $6 after 6 p.m. Admission cost $2 for children. Members of the military got in for free, and seniors over the age of 55 got into the fair for $6.
On Thursday through Sunday, there was a $20 special on unlimited wristbands for the midway rides. The midway,, with more than 50 rides for both children and adults, was provided by Ray Cammack Shows.
Live stage entertainment was provided with several bands on the last Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the fair. In addition, there was daily entertainment by hypnotist Tina Marie, pig races, a butterfly adventures show, Brad's World Reptiles, a stilt circus and World of Wonders. Jimenez said the pig races were especially popular.
"It was a nice, clean atmosphere, with music, dancers, a lot of orange exhibits and citrus displays," he said. "It certainly looked like everybody was enjoying themselves. There was any kind of food anybody wanted to eat."
Two years ago, Orange Show officials tried moving the date of the festival back by two weeks in order to try and increase attendance, but that was quickly changed back to the original Memorial Day weekend, Jimenez said. The festival also included a pie and cake baking contest, a juried art exhibit, a quilt making competition and a nostalgic art exhibit.
On the cultural stage, the Folkorio Nuevo Esperanza and the Le Herencia Mariachi appeared to rave reviews from the audience.
The park covers 120 acres with parking for 8,000 cars and operates year around for special events. The current National Orange Show Events Center offers 150,000 square feet of indoor exhibit space, a quarter mile speedway, state-of-the-art satellite wagering center, and can accommodate more than 40,000 attendees. The center continues to carry out its mission to promote and preserve the citrus industry; manage and operate year-round recreational and cultural facilities to attract special events focusing on education and family entertainment; and support the community through charitable programs, scholarships, and active community involvement.
Jimenez said the fair was advertised through radio, television and other commercial media. The advertisements also included the Orange Show Internet site and emails to previous customers.