For Palm Beach County residents, and especially youngsters, the new year also means the South Florida Fair.
It hasn’t always been at its eponymous current location, west of Florida’s Turnpike on Southern Boulevard. It moved there 60 years ago, on Jan. 27, 1958.
The “Palm Beach County Fair” started in March 1912. It was a four-day event under a single tent on the grounds of the old Palm Beach County Courthouse. The county, split from Dade only three years earlier, wanted a forum to show off its winter crops, livestock and booming real estate.
The county’s godfather, Henry Flagler, sweetened the pot by offering cash prizes for farmers and others who displayed their wares. The fair moved the following year to a site just to the north, near the railroad depot.
The Depression hit hard and the fair was reduced to a carnival midway from 1930 until 1937, then is believed to have shut down all together. A plan to revive it for early 1942 was quashed by the Pearl Harbor attack.
It finally reopened in 1946 at the National Guard Armory, then moved in early 1948 to Morrison Field, later Palm Beach International Airport, but was evicted again when the airport reactivated for the Korean conflict.
The fair incorporated in 1953, and from then to 1955, it set up in the parking lot of the Palm Beach Speedway, a 5,000-seat facility with a half-mile, high-banked track, near the site of the fair’s present location.
In 1956, the county deeded 18 acres at the present site of Palm Beach Community College’s main campus in Lake Worth, and after the fair was held there that year, the county took it back for the school and instead deeded 100 acres next to the speedway.
The 1957 fair was at John Prince Park. Later that year, the fair’s corporation bought the speedway property, about 35 acres.
The fair opened on its new grounds Jan. 27, 1958, and was promptly hit by a small tornado that blew down six tents but hurt no one.
For its Jan, 22, 196o opening, it was renamed the South Florida Fair.
As if to mock its new name, the weather gods slammed the new entity’s opening night with bitter temperatures; the low of 36 set a record beaten in 1985 when the low dropped to 28.
On that night in 1960, only about 400 brave souls paid admission.
The fair, undaunted, later added 10 exhibit halls, the 40,000-square-foot Expo Hall, an adjacent 70,000-square-foot hall, Yesteryear Village, a paved midway and concourse areas. The Coral Sky Amphitheatre, capacity 20,000, opened in 1995. It’s since gone through several names and now is back Coral Sky.
The fair’s budget has gone from about $50,000 in 1957 to $12.5 million now.
This year’s fair runs Friday to Jan. 28.
Submit your questions to Post Time, The Palm Beach Post, 2751 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach, FL 33405. Include your full name and hometown. Call 561-820-4418. EK@pbpost.com. Sorry; no personal replies.