FMCA will return to this California city and fairgrounds complex in March for its 75th International Convention, “Celebrating Family.”
By Pamela Selbert
Back in 1851 my great-great-great grandfather Washington Peck traveled by horse-drawn Conestoga wagon through fledgling Los Angeles on his way to Sacramento and the gold fields. Fortunately for me, he kept a detailed journal of his travels. In it he assessed Los Angeles as a town that didn’t amount to much. He predicted it probably never would. Hard to imagine what he would think if he could see it now, with a population of almost 4 million, and the many towns its metro area encompasses.
Among these is Pomona, located 30 miles east of L.A., between the Inland Empire and the San Gabriel Valley. It now claims a respectable population of 168,000 across its roughly 23 square miles.
What indeed would Washington Peck think of Pomona? It’s a land of lovely vistas and green hills dotted with horses and houses, and probably best known today as the site of the huge Los Angeles County Fair “” the largest county fair in the United States “” and of California State Polytechnic University-Pomona.
On March 20, 21, 22, and 23, 2006 Family Motor Coach Association will visit Pomona for the fifth time by holding its 75th International Convention “” dubbed “Celebrating Family” “” at the Los Angeles County Fair, Hotel and Exposition Complex, better known as Fairplex. The grounds are so accommodating, diverse, and convenient to travelers that it has become a popular place to hold FMCA gatherings.
Peck, who was the wagon master of his party, a cooper by trade, and later a territorial legislator in what would become the state of Washington, may not have envisioned anything like what has developed in the region. But, in fact, Pomona was already in the works when he passed through the area.
According to the Pomona Chamber of Commerce, the town’s rich history is marked by many milestones. Originally it was home to the Gabrielenos Indians, and the valley it occupies became known in the 1700s as Rancho San Jose, which would soon become part of Mission San Gabriel’s grazing lands. (It was common for Spanish missions to maintain large herds of cattle and other grazing animals.) In the 1830s a couple of Mexicans, Don Ygnacio Palomares and Don Ricardo Vejar, petitioned the governor, and in 1837 were given rights to the land.
The pair divided Rancho San Jose in two. The northern half of the ranch was run by Palomares, whose 1837 home, La Casa Primera de Rancho San Jose, can be toured today. Much of the home, where he lived for 17 years, is furnished with period antiques.
Vejar got the southern half of the ranch, according to Walter Hackett, a great-great-great grandson of the rancher. Hackett disagrees with the official information that in 1863 Vejar’s portion “was passed on to two merchants from Los Angeles.” Rather, he maintains, the merchants tricked Vejar out of the land. Vejar had purchased cattle supplies from them on credit and, according to Hackett, was asked to sign an agreement that was drafted in English rather than Spanish. The rancher was told he was agreeing to pay for the supplies with interest. In fact, the document was a mortgage on his property.
In 1875 the subsequent owner sold 5,600 acres to a group of speculators, one of whom was Solomon Gates. Gates named the area Pomona, after the Roman goddess of fruit and fruit trees. This proved to be prophetic, as vineyards soon flourished in the area, supplying grapes to the state’s burgeoning winemaking and raisin industries.
Citrus orchards and olive groves replaced the vineyards in the 1890s. By 1916 Pomona Valley farmers were producing more than a third of all citrus fruit grown in California. Travel guides (the few that mention Pomona, a town inexplicably under-promoted) note that the region has a rich citrus-growing heritage. Today, it’s also renowned for its art galleries (it has nearly two dozen, located mostly on Second, Main, and Thomas streets) and antiques stores.
The Pomona Arts Colony Art Walk is held on the second Saturday of each month, with artist receptions from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on each occasion. Free concerts are held on the fourth Saturday of every month (call 909-620-1092 for information). And an Antique & Collectibles Street Fair takes place the last Saturday of every other month. In March 2006 the fair is on the 25th, the Saturday following the FMCA convention.
But art and antiques make up only a fraction of what is available here: everything else you can think of, from jewelry to books, clothing to party supplies, and furniture to records and CDs, not to mention more than a dozen restaurants and bakeries. If you can’t find it in Pomona, you probably don’t need it.
Commerce-wise, the city is now renowned for producing optics, electronic software, glass, cosmetics, and paper products. And, according to the chamber of commerce, it was first with the long-distance transmission of electricity, the use of alternating current, and direct distance telephone dialing, as well as the first semiautomatic switchboard west of the Mississippi.
Pomona offers much to visitors. Among the attractions are the nine-block pedestrian mall, the first such creation west of the Mississippi, and the 13-room Palomares Adobe, built in 1854 by Don Ygnacio Palomares, located approximately a mile north of his La Casa Primera. His second residence served as a way station along the San Bernardino Stage and 20-Mule Team freight routes. Self-guided tours are offered at the restored building, which is furnished as it would have been when Don Ygnacio lived there. The home, restored by the Historical Society of Pomona Valley, was opened to visitors in 1940. It is located at 491 E. Arrow Highway. Phone (909) 620-0264 for more information. The Casa Primera de Rancho San Jose is at 1659 N. Park Ave.; phone (909) 623-2198 for more information.
The Planes of Fame Air Museum at Chino Airport is another must-see in the area. It houses more than 75 aircraft from the World War II era, including the largest single collection of Japanese aircraft “” even a flying, original Zero fighter. The planes are in demand at air shows around the country, so call ahead to learn what’s in “stock” before you visit. Tours are self-guided, and the museum also has a souvenir shop with books, posters, and other memorabilia. It’s open daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas), and an admission fee is charged; parking is free. Phone (909) 597-3722 or visit www.planesoffame.org for more information.
Other attractions in the area include the Pomona College Milliken Planetarium at the college in Claremont (909-621-8000, ext. 2945). The Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens, also in nearby Claremont, is an 86-acre blooming expanse that features free admission, and, luckily for FMCA members, its peak flowering season is in March. It’s open daily. Phone (909) 625-8767.
For golfers, local courses include Mountain Meadows Golf Course in Pomona and others in nearby Chino and Chino Hills. And for visitors so inclined, hiking is available along the Pacific Crest Trail, fishing in streams and lakes, and camping at thousands of nearby mountain sites.
Those who like to look back will enjoy Pomona Antique Row, considered one of the largest and finest antiques complexes on the West Coast. Hundreds of dealers sell their wares along the 100-200 block of East Second Street.
You can take your pick among several area farmers’ markets; Pomona’s is open Saturday mornings (only) year-round at the corner of Pearl and North Garey. And if you enjoy dining in a splendid setting, you might want to check out the rustic Pomona Valley Mining Company (1777 Gillette Road; 909-623-3515). Famous for its steak and seafood, the popular eatery is situated atop a hill for glittering nighttime views of the valley.
Motorhomers who have attended previous FMCA conventions in Pomona probably already know what a variety of attractions they can look forward to, but perhaps this has provided them with a few other ideas. Motorhomers coming for the first time have some wonderful surprises in store.
Free tour guides and brochures are available from the state of California tourism and from the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau. Pomona handles visitor information over the phone or via its Web site.
Pomona Chamber of Commerce
101 W. Mission Blvd. #223
Pomona, CA 91769
Fairplex Exposition Center
1101 W. McKinley Ave.
Pomona, CA 91769
Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau
685 S. Figueroa St.
Los Angeles, CA 90017
P.O. Box 1499
Sacramento, CA 95812-1499
Fairplex: A Convention “Home”
When FMCA members visit the Fairplex grounds in March, they’ll be celebrating the fifth time the association has gathered there. Other conventions took place at Fairplex in 1993, 1997, 2000, and 2003.
The fairgrounds itself dates back much further. The first Los Angeles County Fair, which attracted more than 49,000 visitors, was held in 1922 on a 43-acre site purchased by the city of Pomona. The Fairplex Exposition center, with a 9,500-seat grandstand, an outdoor exhibit area, and eight buildings with some 325,000-square feet of exhibit space, now stands on that site (plus additional acreage). In addition to the county fair, the venue hosts open-air markets, antiques shows, the annual Wines of the World competition “” some 300 events each year.
Fairplex is practically a city unto itself, or perhaps more accurately a city within a city. Over its 543 acres it also includes a motorsports museum, a hotel, a KOA Kampground, a child development center, a major racetrack, restaurants, a historic train exhibit, and an art museum.
Fairplex traces its origins back to 1921 and a merchants’ exposition held along the Southern Pacific Railway in downtown Pomona. A minor event, consisting of a carnival and exhibits in a single tent, it nonetheless set the stage for things to come.
At the time Los Angeles County did not hold a county fair. But area businessmen viewed hosting a fair as an opportunity to bring recognition and commerce to Pomona. The city council approved their idea, and the city purchased a 43-acre beet and barley field from the Ricardo Vejar estate. The original plan was to “promote the agriculture, horticulture and animal husbandry of the Great Southwest.”
That same year, 1922, ground was broken and a half-mile racetrack and 4,000-seat grandstand were built, as was a cattle barn, an administration building, and others. Visitors packed in 49,461 strong for that first five-day event held in October. Three years after that initial fair, 100,000 were drawn to the event, and the numbers have been growing ever since.
Today the Los Angeles County Fair, held in September (the 2005 event also ran through the first of October), is the fourth-biggest fair or festival in North America. In 2005 attendance topped 1.32 million.
A host of changes also have occurred over the years, such as in 1986, when a 185-site RV park was built at the fairgrounds. Today it’s a KOA affiliate with full hookups and many on-site amenities (phone 909-593-8915). In 1989 Fairplex buildings were renovated, nine new horse barns were built, and the entire complex was relandscaped to include plazas, fountains, trees, and flowers.
In 1997 the center celebrated its 75th anniversary, offering an opening-day fair admission charge of 75 cents. More than 90,000 visitors turned out. The next year the Wally Parks NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) Motorsports Museum was opened at Fairplex. In 28,000-square feet of exhibit space, the museum contains vintage racers, winning cars from 50 years of drag racing, racing memorabilia, photos, uniforms, and original art. A gift shop and even a drag racing school are on the premises. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors (60 and over), $3 for children 6 to 15, and free for kids 5 and under. Call (909) 622-2133 for more information.
With so much to do close at hand in Pomona and Fairplex and elsewhere in the Los Angeles metro area, motorhomers attending the FMCA convention will find their days pleasantly full.