La Verne Magazine
"Tradition & Change"
Fairplex: Tradition & Change
by Stacie N. Galang
photography by Erica Paal
The Footzie-Wootzie massage provides 25 cents of bonus entertainment
for (l to r) Matthew, Paula, Dylan and Melani Rungiatis. Building 22 is
one of several buildings slated to be razed for Fairplex Village, a megaplex
containing an ice-skating rink, movie theater complex, health spa, convention
center, retail shops and restaurants.
A county fair conjures strong mental images of food-the cholesterol-ridden,
Cajun-spiced kind that the doctor advises against, or fluffy sheep and larger-than-life
pigs a lá Charlotte's Web, complete with the rustic smell.
Today's fair is a pastoral scene, juxtaposed with modern-day retail,
true infomercial fan fodder. And for 77 years, the business venture known
as the Los Angeles County Fair has provided, as the adage goes, "Something
Now, as a grandfather of sorts, the fair is on the verge of taking a
modern-day leap into the 21st century with an offspring known as Fairplex
Village. Numerous factions that have a vested interest in the venture have
come together, some willingly, others reluctantly, to bring about the complex.
Fairplex Village is a proposed megaplex entertainment center that will take
the 18-day event to a true year-round business.
"It would be in a village-type of design where people would come
throughout the year to shop, dine, meet their friends, enjoy the variety
of different activities," says Sid Robinson, Fairplex media director.
"You look at Ontario Mills, and that's a retail center with some
entertainment. This is going to be an entertainment center with retail,"
The facility is slated to have an ice-skating rink, movie theater complex,
health spa and convention center, among other offerings, with retail shopping
and restaurants interspersed throughout the rest of the layout. Some of
the staple attractions will be transplanted to other areas of the 487-acre
The NHRA Museum, for example, will move to a newly constructed location
on the fair's north side, and the garden railroad will likely be moved closer
to the train exhibit, allowing year-round access. Other structures will
go the way of the dodo bird. Fiesta Village, erected in 1957, will be demolished
as will Fairplex 22, the current home of America's Kids.
Robinson likens the transformation to that of the Volkswagen Beetle
revival. "You take something that was truly loved and enjoyed by many
people," he says. "It's got the conveniences and amenities of
today that fit contemporary needs. It fits the new millennium."
For several years now, Fairplex has shifted to more of a year-round
facility, hosting a plethora of events. From craft shows to gun shows, the
management has added to the fair plate in an attempt to subsidize the cost
of running such a large facility. Even after the facility decided to push
for Fairplex Village, the banning of gun shows on L.A. County property --
a loss of $600,000 -- has offered a telling sign that times continue to
change. The move has been incremental. And while some find the prospect
of an entertainment center a goldmine for the Pomona Valley, others are
hesitant. Some are upset, angry even that their backyards will be more busy
Stanley Fikel, a life-long resident of Pomona and 14-year resident of
Mountain Meadows, a community bordering Fairplex, laments the changes that
have progressively worsened during his family's residence in the area. Fikel
lives with his wife, son and daughter. "We expected it to be busy,"
he says. "What's happened is that Fairplex has continually added activities.
That's been done without an environmental study." Fikel refers to the
increase in activities for the new venue beyond the Los Angeles County Fair.
Fairplex and the city of Pomona are currently awaiting the results of an
environmental impact report done within the last year to address the impact
of Fairplex Village on the community.
"We hear noise from cars. My daughter hears noise from the west
side, facing Fairplex, from 6 a.m. on Saturdays. Ten years ago, this didn't
exist. They've been able to sneak by," Fikel says. "Now they want
to stick street traffic in there. That will create a heck of a lot of traffic.
There's been no mitigation. We've only been made aware of one meeting, and
that meeting was not a give and take. That was a meeting where they were
talking to us," he says. "We're concerned with our day-to-day
living. I bet there are a lot of people not living in the area who think
[Fairplex Village] is the greatest thing since chewing gum."
Fairplex, through an outside agency, has conducted four scoping meetings
that were advertised in local newspapers. Fikel says that he only subscribes
to the Los Angeles Times because local publications do not meet his expectations
-- a story for another day.
He relates the time his family used to be able to sit in the backyard
for barbecues. "We absolutely cannot do it," he says. "We
were concerned; now we're mad."
Change is imminent. "What Fairplex Village will do is just make
our facility more attractive," Robinson says. "It will help us
to help current events and help our other businesses here. It will also
help us from the standpoint of just physically improving the plant. This
place has been here since 1922, and a lot of the buildings were built in
the 1930s. Most of the exhibit buildings have been renovated and modernized.
"I think when people have looked at what has happened in the exhibition
complex, really most of that happened 10 years ago. They love it. There's
not a whole lot of people who want to see us go back to the way we were."
Fairplex, and the Los Angeles County Fair, have much to contend with
in the local market. Venues throughout the Southland vie for the dollars
of entertainment seekers. In the battle for their notice, Fairplex Village
hopes to rival those megaplex, celebrity-endorsed, neon-lit destinations.
"The fair has a large physical plant," says Dr. Stephen Morgan,
president of the University of La Verne and member of the board of directors
of the Los Angeles County Fair Association. "As our bills add up, we
need to invest money to improve our physical facilities. Fairplex Village
will bring new sources of revenue."
"Right now we don't have the type of revenue stream that we can
go in there every year and fix those kind of things. We can put band aids
on some types of things, but there's a lot of work that needs to be done,"
Local residents, knowing it is they who will deal with the increased
traffic and problems that occur with a place like the village, are upset.
Dr. Morgan addresses their concern. "It's important to speak out.
It's important for us to hear you. It's important to compromise," he
says. "We think that if Fairplex Village can develop as I see in the
plans, with retail shopping and entertainment and food opportunities very
close to us, it could be particularly beneficial to our campus," Morgan
says about its proximity to the University of La Verne. "I believe
our current plan addresses those issues very effectively," Dr. Morgan
says. "We're finding we need additional resources to provide our primary
event, the Los Angeles County Fair," he says. "I think we try
to bring about the change in as positive a way as possible," he says.
"The layout of the fair will be different. People probably don't
realize we change in one way or another the layout of where things are almost
every year," says Robinson. "The concept of doing an entertainment
center at Fairplex is not a new one at all; in fact it's been talked about
for years. It really didn't come out from a public standpoint until about
the end of 1997, and it was introduced as Paradise Park, which was the initial
concept," Robinson says.
"You know the problem with this facility is that there was not
a master plan in place. It started off as the 43 acres. The fair was first
held in tents, and then there were some buildings, and so on and so forth.
And it was built as the fairgrounds. But right now, there are not ideal
flows for getting around the fair," Robinson says. "There's still
a long way to go; we talk about tradition and seeing things go away, and
I say, they won't. We look at it as an opportunity to bring these things
back in such a form that it can be better showcased. [For example], we can
really do more to make it a train museum there. And you combine the historical
trains with the garden railroad, and all of a sudden there's something much
more meaningful to the public. There's just more to it," Robinson says.
"Most projects will have one scoping meeting. We had four. And
there's a reason -- to try to be in tune with as many parts of the community
as we possibly could for this project and to try to develop it with a sensibility
and a responsibility to what's going to happen," Robinson says.
"You don't see the community as a whole objecting to this project.
You see certain people in certain parts of the neighborhood, but you can't
even make the statement that the local neighbors are opposed to it because
a good deal of the local neighbors on the same streets are very much for
it, Robinson says. "They're being informed and kept up-to-date of what
is going on with the project."
Robinson says that lifestyles have changed. Busy lifestyles compete
with events like the fair. The family make-up has changed. More two-parent
income families or single parent families have become a part of society.
"With our fair, we have to do something that is a priority or makes
this place so special that people are always going to want to come. I think
the people who are associated with the city of Pomona realize that this
is something that the city needs. I think those people who are supportive,
who are the neighbors, the support group; they know that this is something
the city needs."
City Councilman Willie White says he believes the project will benefit
the city by providing jobs and attracting other business. "I think
Fairplex Village will be in many cases the anchor for the city." White
agrees with Robinson that the majority of the citizens believe the village
will help the city to prosper. "I have to look at all the aspects of
what's going to be in the best interests of all the folks in the city of
Pomona, not just one special interest group. I only really see one maybe
bad thing, and that's traffic, but you can't have one without the other
one," he says. "It's in the Fairplex's best interests to mitigate
this. One of the worst things that we can have is frustrated tenants who
are trying to make it to the fair and can't because of traffic."
The plus side of traffic, he says, is that it means revenue.
The city of Pomona, which will likely have to kick in money to help
fund the project, is seeking grants from D.C. and the state.
So fear not fair fans. The fair, in all its rustic glory, will remain,
but it may not look quite the same.
The Toad in the Hole eatery at Fairplex is a long-standing establishment
that is slated to be razed to make way for the building of Fairplex Village.