A Brief History Of Earl Warren Showgrounds

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Santa Barbara County's equestrian tradition is rooted in its Spanish and Mexican past. Even before 1924 when Santa Barbara first organized Old Spanish Days and Fiesta Rodeo to celebrate its Spanish and vaquero heritage, Santa Barbara citizens were already commemorating their appreciation of the horse by sponsoring an annual Santa Barbara National Horse Show. In 1931 and continuing throughout the 1940's the 19th District Agricultural Association staged the National Horse and Flower Show in Pershing Park (at the beach next to present-day Santa Barbara City College). The 19th DAA worked closely with local equestrian and horticultural communities to stage one of the major equestrian and social events of the year. Indeed, 2008 will mark its 89th anniversary.

Earl Warren Showgrounds - administered by the 19th DAA - is part of a network of fairgrounds properties governed by the Division of Fairs and Expositions in the California Department of Food and Agriculture. A local Board of Directors appointed by the Governor manages each District within the California fair program comprised of 54 district agricultural associations, 24 county fairs, 2 citrus fairs and Cal Expo. In exchange for legalized racetrack wagering, a percentage of the handle - albeit a tiny one - was dedicated to promote agriculture in the form of local fairs. Agricultural Districts throughout the state receive no taxpayer funds - only a very small percentage from a state levy on horse racing and pari-mutuel wagering. They are otherwise self-funded entities. The primary purpose of the fair program is to improve agricultural and livestock production through competitive exhibiting. Earl Warren Showgrounds was built especially for horse shows, as the equine tradition was and remains a central component of Santa Barbara County Agricultural tradition. A secondary purpose is year-round community use of showgrounds facilities.

In 1955, the District negotiated with the Parks family and the State of California to purchase 174 acres on Las Positas Rd as an equestrian venue and municipal golf course, with the understanding that exhibition facilities promoting other aspects of Santa Barbara County agriculture would be built in Santa Maria. The Parks family, who still ranch on the South Coast, sold the Las Positas property at below market value so that even as the city became more urbanized a first class public horse and flower exhibition facility would endure. To gain support for construction of the facilities from the local community, the 19th District Agricultural Association gave ten acres for the construction of Adams Elementary School.

In 1958, a new 34-acre equestrian facility known as Earl Warren Showgrounds hosted the annual National Horse and Flower Show. The new facility was praised as being one of the best and most modern horse show venues in the country. The Exhibit Building was completed in 1959, and the Administration Building in 1961.

What makes Earl Warren Showgrounds unique among all state and county fairgrounds is that it was specifically designed and built as an equestrian showgrounds and flower show facility. The facilities and space layout in Santa Barbara is consequently quite different from either Ventura or Santa Maria, which were configured to showcase agricultural produce and other livestock. Equestrian facilities at Earl Warren include a central �Dome� arena, three combination performance/warm-up arenas, and 600 permanent barn stalls. There are two buildings, including 13,000 sq. ft Warren Hall (originally built to accommodate satellite wagering), devoted to interim events such as computer, antique, RV or specialty sales, as well as conference, concert and meeting venues. Satellite wagering takes place in a 7,000 sq. ft building formerly used for concessions. There are several smaller buildings used for catering/food services and for administration. Parking facilities include 1,000 designated parking spaces.

Today, Earl Warren Showgrounds remains an irreplaceable, centrally located community asset, which hosts a variety of equestrian, agricultural, and community events. Its large indoor facilities, abundant parking, and easy freeway access could not be duplicated at any other location in Santa Barbara.

The Showgrounds has become an essential component of Santa Barbara's disaster preparedness plan, providing, at no cost, the use of its grounds and facilities for the training of the Santa Barbara Police Department, county Sheriff's Department, California Highway Patrol, county Fire Department and Probation Department. In addition, the facility acts as an emergency animal shelter in times of fire and natural disaster, such as the 1990 Painted Cave Fire, the 2004 Gaviota Fire, the 2007 Zaca Fire, the 2008 Gap Fire and the 2008 Tea Fire.