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Sunday, July 17, 2005

Fair had no trouble attracting volunteers

Sabine Goerke-Shrode

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Late in 1929, Solano County residents once again began preparations for a large fair event.  “The Bells of Solano County” was a brainchild of Solano Republican publisher David A. Weir and was heralded as the Solano County Exposition and County Fair. It was to take place May 24 to June 1, 1930.

As the county seat, Fairfield was chosen to host the exposition on the large empty block bordered by Texas, Union, Jefferson and Missouri streets, opposite the courthouse.

In December 1929, Sheriff John Thornton was appointed as chairman. Word of the event began to spread locally and was even covered in national newspapers. On Jan. 16, 1930, the Solano Republican announced the first acceptances for the various committees that were needed for development of such a large event.

Among those volunteering were Mayor Fred H. Heegler as chairman of the reception committee, Assemblyman Ernest C. Crowley, and E. C. Andrews of the The Reporter in Vacaville.

Weir wrote of these three men in his editorial that day: “The spirit of the first three notables is an encouraging sign of cooperation to further the cause. Brother Andrews (of the Reporter), in accepting membership in the publicity committee, voiced his sentiments to Thornton in this manner: ‘Hoping I can be of some assistance to the exposition, to yourself and to Mr. Weir in helping to make it the great success it deserves to be.’ “

Local and regional businessmen such as J. A. Pritchard, local manager of the J. C. Penney Co. Inc., and Mrs. Lewis F. Morrill, president of the Fairfield-Suisun Wednesday Club also pledged their support. This outpouring of support allowed Weir to announce on Jan. 30, 1930: “Self-Impelling Strength Speeds Solano County’s Great Event On To Goal. Acceptances From Leaders Among Men and Women Bring Assurance Of Cooperation To Make The Bells Of Solano County Exposition [A] Real Success.”

The article continued in Weir’s distinct prose: “What loomed like a mountain of difficulties at the beginning has grown into a horizon of hope decking a bed of multicolored flowers destined to merge their beauty with the greatest fete ever attempted in Solano County. For which thanks are due to the many men and women who have spontaneously accepted the invitation tendered by Sheriff John R. Thornton, General Chairman of The Bells of Solano County Exposition, with a definite assurance of cooperation which should and will make every interested Solano Countian happy in the knowledge that ‘unity’ cometh from the heart.

“Sanscrit proverbs tell us that ‘as the chariot will not move upon a single wheel, even so fate succeedeth not without human exertion.’ This fact has evidently been recognized by all who realize the importance of this unusual plan for a County Fair, destined to stand supreme in the annals of similar events throughout the country.”

This was Jan. 30. The exposition was set to open May 24. Weir continued to rally for support to ensure the success, not only of this year, but also for future years. The response seems to have been overwhelming:

“In the organization of such enterprises the first body of men and women must lay the foundation for greater effort with and among others who believe, as hundreds upon hundreds have expressed it, in the exposition and the need for its stabilization upon a plane that shall make it live hereafter.

‘Jack’ Thornton has found it difficult to attempt to answer all letters and telephone messages of assurance of cooperation, from those whom he has - without intention of being partial - named to committee memberships, and is particularly gratified that so many whom he by reason of size of the list, was unable to name have nevertheless signified their willingness to serve in any way he or committee chairman - may deem it necessary.”

One of the major committees was the entertainment committee, chaired by Weir. Other members appointed included “Miss Jean Davis, Professor J. E. Brownlee, W. F. Newell, Larry Farrell, Geo. W. Lee, all of Suisun; Miss Emily Reese, Miss Anna Kyle, J. A. Gerevas, Roy J. Sheldon, and Charles H. Stanley, manager Solano Theatre, all of Fairfield; Mike Dolan, athletic director, U. S. Marine Corps; Chester Cooke Bonner, with the Navy Y.M.C.A., and Jack Ryan, manager of Fox Theatres, all of Vallejo; and T. C. McDaniel, Superintendent, Rural Schools, Vacaville.”

Another committee included the women’s committee, chaired by Mrs. Duncan Robinson, president of the California Federation of Women’s Clubs. Luther E. Gibson, publisher of the Times-Herald, Vallejo, and Capt. L.M. Cox, publisher of the Vallejo Evening Chronicle, also pledged their support.

Capt. Cox lauded Weir’s untiring efforts in an editorial in the Vallejo Chronicle in early February 1930, saying: “We are beginning to believe that the editor of the Solano Republican, Mr. D. A. Weir, is the kind of go-getter needed in any community. The manner in which he has brought his dream of a joint county exposition and diamond jubilee for his fine old paper into definite shape, is truly remarkable. It is a big job, which he has undertaken and the degree of accomplishment realized at this stage of its progress is quite enough to make some of our pessimists sit up and take notice.”

The Feb. 6, 1930, Solano Republican issue featured a special insert of four full pages, advertising, publicizing and expounding on the exposition. The articles included a drawing of the exposition grounds with a bird’s-eye view of the tents. A devastatingly bad fire destroyed Armijo High School and the Solano County Free Library in early December 1929. Plans to rebuild the library were under way. In the interim, the actual operation was being moved to Suisun.

On Feb. 6, 1930, it was announced that the exhibition had been dedicated to become a major fundraising event to benefit the Solano County Free Library. “Portion of Receipts For Public Library,” read the column. “It has been announced by the management of The Bells of Solano County Exposition that a percentage of all sums received from the sale of booth space and concessions will be turned over to the Board of Supervisors of the Solano County Free Library, recently destroyed by fire. ....

“The setting aside of a portion of funds for the use of the Library should mean a princely sum to be used in bringing that splendid and important institution again into useful leadership as quickly as possible; the Library is a vital factor in the progress of Solano County”

Clara Dills, the Solano County librarian, was delighted, promising the library’s support of the exposition. The newspaper insert added: “The diversion of funds to the cause of bringing back the County Library even ‘Bigger and Better’ than ever has aroused a great deal of interest upon all sides, and it is evident that much impetus will be added to the work of placing booth space and concessions by this action upon the part of the management.”

A diagram showed the layout of the exposition and the individual boot spaces. Booth fees ran from 35 cents per square foot for a booth under 100 square feet to as low as 25 cents per square foot for those above 150 feet. Rates for the carnival concessions on Missouri Street between Union and Washington streets, and for the large dining room space at the corner of Texas and Jefferson streets were somewhat higher. A large article covered the pageant, “to encourage the literary talent of Solano County to assert itself.” The pageant consisted of an essay contest open to all citizens.

“The basis of the Pageant Play is to depict the characters of Neptune, Diana, Venus, Jupiter, Juno, Saturn, Minerva, Apollo, Ceres and other mythical characters viewing the progress during the life of Solano County. ...”

The pageant was planned to begin on May 23 with the arrival of the Gods and Goddesses on boats and ships from as far away as Monterey to a Water Carnival and Fireworks in Vallejo, followed by arrival at the exposition the following day, and concluding with the pageant play itself.

The play was to have approximately 200 participants, take place every afternoon and evening of the exposition and “the mythical characters will view with amazement an enactment of the progress which has been made down through the years from the days of the raising of the American Flag at Sonoma. The event will depict the progress as exemplified by the landing of Naval forces at Monterey, San Francisco Bay and Sonoma for that epochal event.

“From that point on the essays submitted should deal with the early progress, difficulties, achievements and customs of Solano County pioneers during the early mining and agricultural days of California, and thence on down to the industrial and shipping developments. The performance will reach its climax in a gigantic portrayal of present day prosperity and modern accomplishment, the picture throughout being driven home by spectacular effect.”

Essays were to be judged by a committee of seven, consisting of a representative of the Solano County school system, representatives of the University of California and Stanford University, and noted representatives of the press - presumably including Weir.

Will essayists be able to come up with compelling stories between February and May 1930 and create the pageant? I will continue this story in my next column.