Fairgrounds or Playground?


They will sit for hours, cross-legged and fixated on the wood or colorful plastic pieces, creating boxy cars, unidentifiable animals and skyscrapers that are a little too tall. They will stare in awe at the 4-foot dinosaurs built out of K’nex pieces and with wonderment at the fossils that come out of the dinosaur dig.

And their kids will be right there with them.

The America’s Kids pavilion--one of the family activities available at the Los Angeles County Fair--is meant to inspire, entertain and celebrate children, but it typically becomes a playground that attracts adults as well. And this year’s theme, “Jurassic Adventure,” could only compound the effect.

Typically, adults take time out from the carnival midway and the racetrack to entertain the kids at Heritage Farm, the Education Expo and America’s Kids. It’s in the America’s Kids venue that they discover the cool toys; just about every manufacturer of the hottest kids’ toys to date is invited to send samples to the fair, and very few pass up the opportunity, with the promise of at least 8,000 kids a day.


“We win, the kids win and parents get to play with the products and see if it’s something they want their kids to have,” said Kathy Wadham, coordinator of the children’s activities.

And that’s why fair officials just grin and welcome adults, who each year plop down in the play areas alongside their kids, where they try their hands at K’nex, Legos and Kapla Blocks, cavort in the Beach Club sand or become engrossed in Mrs. Nelson’s Toy & Book Shop, along with numerous other activities.

It’s the dinosaurs, though (with two salvaged from the 1997 Rose Parade and refurbished at the center), that are sure to catch a kid’s eye.

“Kids are attracted to the size, when they see how big the dinosaurs really are,” said pop-up artist Wayne Kalama, who designed and built dinosaur skulls and skeletons for the exhibit and who has been fascinated with dinosaurs all his life.


Kalama’s foam core board skeleton of a Corythosaurus is one-third the actual size, rising at almost 7 feet. And his Tyrannosaurus rex skull stands about 4 1/2 feet, with a movable jaw that is sure to draw its share of double-takes.

“We hope to show how the teeth were replaced on the T. rex,” Kalama said. “They were so irregular--about 7 inches long--they would break off. They didn’t seem to chew, they had serrated teeth that would bite down. They could shake, like a shark, and cut through anything. They aren’t cute little dinosaurs, they were real eating machines.”


The county fair has stimulated imaginations since its humble beginnings in a barley field in 1922, offering a venue for competition and education for all ages, along with everything from cooking contests to 4-H shows, petting zoos and the latest and greatest in technology.

For four years, the fair has targeted young children with the America’s Kids pavilion. And this year Morning Madness, a structured program, enables the fair to shuffle 8,000 schoolkids a day through the attractions. The kids come from Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties and the L.A. Unified School District. Morning Madness begins with a show that includes BMX riders and a Medieval times joust. The “madness” continues with more entertainment and competitions created just for students. The program is free; all they need is transportation to the fairgrounds.

For kids who attend with their parents, special events are planned for afternoons and weekends, including the Thomas the Tank Engine depot for ages 2 to 5, a fire department exhibit, Little Tyke Playpark and lots more entertainment.

The fair has no trouble getting sponsors for participatory events. Baskin-Robbins, for instance, is donating gift certificates for the coffee can ice cream-making contest. Robotics is giving away 500 toy kits on the weekends. Home Depot is supplying kits for families (Sundays, 9 to 11 a.m.) to make bug boxes, toolboxes and other wood projects to take home--all free. In Katie’s Kitchen, free manicures and haircuts are offered, courtesy of area cosmetology schools.

On weekday afternoons, Thummer’s Afterschool Club offers free fair admission to kindergarten through eighth-grade students, Mondays through Fridays (call the Fairplex for application). The fair also offers a Passport to Adventure, with which students get to ride six rides free with proof (a parent’s signature) that they’ve read 24 books (start reading now for the 1998 fair).


With numerous coupons and discount days, the hope is “to get all kids who couldn’t afford to come,” Wadham said. “We want everybody to be able to come to the fair.”


Los Angeles County Fair, 1101 W. McKinley Ave., Pomona. Today through Sept. 28. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Fridays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sundays, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. $9; ages 6 to 12, $5; seniors, $7 (Tuesdays and Thursdays, $3.50); 5 and younger, free. Parking, $5; preferred, $7. (909) 623-3111.