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Napa Valley Expo, home to the annual Napa Town & Country Fair, suffered major damage during the Aug. 24 earthquake.

As reported in a recent article in the Napa Valley Register, fair manager Joe Anderson told the fair’s board of directors that post-quake damage estimates had increased from an initial $1.6 million to $4.6 million. He also announced that two of the exhibit buildings and other facilities would be demolished.

I love the fair and my association with it goes back a long time. I went to my first event as a 12-year-old right after my family moved to Napa in 1942. Except for a 20-year hiatus while serving a career in the U.S. Army, I have seldom missed going to the fair at least once every year since then.

Back in 1942, the fairgrounds, while it was in the same location, was very different from today. The main pedestrian and auto entrances were on Burnell Street. The Third Street main entrance was added later.

Just inside the Burnell auto gate was a lighted softball diamond that was home to Napa’s fast-pitch softball league. I spent a lot of my youth watching softball games there. At fair time, the carnival occupied the outfield of the diamond.

The most popular and most used building on the grounds during non-fair time was the Pavilion. It was a popular dance and event venue back in the 1940s and 1950s. It was just inside the pedestrian gate where today’s outdoor stage is located. Lowell Edington was the manager back in those days.

Every year the fair had a rodeo and exhibits were heavy in homemaking, gardening and animal entries. The big day for attendance was Sunday when the popular Napa Native Sons parade route through town ended at the fairgrounds. It was truly a country fair in a rural agricultural area.

My active association with the fair began in the late 1980s when I was appointed to the board of directors by Gov. George Deukmejian. Later, Gov. Pete Wilson renewed the term. I served about five years on the board, two years as president, and then became the founding president of the Friends of the Fair, a community organization that worked with the board.

My time with the fair was enjoyable and I and my colleagues Jack Ferguson, Jack Hussey, Tony Baldini, Marvin Fagundes, Chuck Wagner and others, made some meaningful decisions regarding the conduct of the fair and the operation of the grounds.

The board’s most important achievement was the hiring of Dorothy Lind-Salmon as manager. Dorothy had had a great run as manager of the Tulare County Fair. In one of those years she was selected as a California Woman of the Year by the state Legislature. So she came to the Napa fair scene with high marks and did a masterful job in managing the enterprise.

A major task for the board and for Dorothy was to restore the entire grounds back to normal after the disastrous flood of 1986. That was done. Then, three or four years later, the grounds were flooded again. Dorothy and her small staff mopped up after that one also.

Next, the fair was able to get a loan to convert one of the buildings into what is now the Bingo Emporium, where community organizations conduct fundraising bingo games seven days a week. A California fair had never before been able to get a loan.

The minimally efficient RV park was expanded and upgraded and now operates all year long, except during fair time, at a very high rate of occupancy.

Finally, it was during this period that the board decided to name the existing buildings after locally prominent wine varietals. Hence, exhibit buildings, whose names were meaningless before, were renamed Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot, Riesling and Zinfandel. Unfortunately, because of the 2014 quake, Merlot and Cabernet halls will be razed.

The Napa Town & Country Fair and Napa Valley Expo have played an important role in the social and recreational activities of our community for a very long time. I feel privileged to have been able to contribute to its continued success and increased longevity.

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Jim Ford can be contacted at jwford571@gmail.com.

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