The First State Ag Pavilion

Founded in May 1854 by an act of the legislature, the State Agricultural Society was effective from inception, and its annual fairs were quite successful—but for a time it had no permanent home. The fairs traveled between San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose, Stockton and Marysville until 1859, when Sacramento became the site of all subsequent annual exhibitions, and also the site of the Agricultural Society’s permanent offices at its new Pavilion on Sixth and M Streets. Completed in forty-four days, the Romanesque-style masonry structure boasted the largest public room in the United States, with 23 broad steps from the street to its arched doors and windows. It was, as local newspapers crowed, the pride and joy of the city. The Society’s Agricultural Park, opened in 1861, featured a large Machinery Hall, cattle stalls and horse stables, roofed sheep pens, poultry houses and a grandstand where spectators viewed horse and dog races. The park and racetrack spanned B through H Streets between Twentieth and Twenty-third.  A second, even more magnificent Agricultural Pavilion, replaced the original hall in 1884. Located east of the Capitol on spacious grounds, the structure was designed in the shape of a Greek cross with two main halls. Skylights on all the rooftops and a central dome of glass thirty feet in diameter afforded ample daylight. Like its predecessor, the new pavilion was the site of charity balls, concerts and conventions, as well as annual state fair exhibitions. The new pavilion served for fifteen years, until growth in population and attendance at state fairs forced a change of venue to eighty acres on Stockton Boulevard, expanded by another seventy-five acres in 1937. For five years during and after World War II, the fair was suspended. In 1948, the state purchased a large tract along the American River, but construction on this land was delayed until 1963 while the fair continued at the Stockton Boulevard grounds. Known as Cal Expo, the current California State Fair site hosts many other events year round.

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