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From heroes to heifers — O.C. fairgrounds to reopen two beloved exhibits to the public

A 25th-anniversary celebration of Centennial Farm at the Orange County Fairgrounds
Closed to the public since March, Centennial Farm and Heroes Hall veterans museum at the Orange County fairgrounds in Costa Mesa will reopen under a limited schedule starting Tuesday to guests with reservations.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

After nearly eight months of playing host to emergency food distributions, COVID-19 testing and a number of pandemic-approved drive-through events, Orange County fairgrounds officials have announced two local attractions will reopen Tuesday to the visiting public.

The fairground’s Centennial Farm and Heroes Hall veterans museum will reopen under a limited schedule starting Tuesday for visitors who make timed reservations beforehand and agree to follow newly implemented coronavirus precautions.

On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., guests can stroll through the 3.5-acre farm, where a number of livestock remained hunkered down during the pandemic, and stroll through a 1-acre seasonal garden lovingly maintained by staff.

In a release issued Wednesday, OC Fair and Event Center Chief Executive Michele Richards shared the sense of collective excitement at the fairgrounds regarding the reopening of two beloved spaces.

“These venues are really the heart and soul of our fairgrounds year-round, and we have all missed doing what we do best — educating and entertaining,” she said. “I know our animals at the farm are especially anxious to see visitors again.”

Evy Young, the fair’s agricultural education supervisor, confirmed a good number of the farm’s more than 60 critters were, indeed, looking forward to the resumption of backrubs and pets.

“Our animals are really friendly,” she said. “A lot of them honestly miss all the petting and back-scratching.”

Young said visitors will be able to take a self-guided tour of the property during their one-hour visit. In addition to checking in on chickens and gazing at goats, visitors can also enjoy a new art exhibit at nearby Heroes Hall.

Unlike Centennial Farm, the renovated two-story Army barracks building housing the museum has been shuttered since March.

Heroes Hall Supervisor Carol Singleton, who led the charge of readying the space for its grand reopening, said a skeleton crew worked long and hard to clean the place up, redo the floors and get things shipshape just in time for the opening of the new exhibit.

 A watercolor from exhibit "Private Charles J. Miller: WWII Paintings from the South Pacific"
A new exhibit “Private Charles J. Miller: WWII Paintings from the South Pacific” opens at the Orange County fairgrounds Heroes Hall on Nov. 3.
(Courtesy of the OC Fair & Event Center)

On loan through May from the Wright Museum of World War II in Wolfeboro, N.H., “Private Charles J. Miller: WWII Paintings from the South Pacific,” showcases 80 or more watercolor paintings produced by a self-taught former Army private who captured scenes of daily life.

Miller made canvases out of whatever was handy, from large pieces of paper to the insides of cigarette cartons, and hand painted notes on the face of every picture, according to Singleton.

“You have his annotations of where it was, what happened and what he thought about it — it’s like a diary,” she said. “It’s an incredible history you learn from these paintings and his experiences.”

A painting from an exhibit at the OC Fairground's Heroes Hall, opening Nov. 3.
An exhibit at the Orange County fairground’s Heroes Hall features paintings depicting annotated scenes from the South Pacific theater of WWII painted by self-taught Army Private Charles J. Miller.
(Courtesy of the OC Fair & Event Center)

Although the Orange County fairgrounds will be closed Nov. 11 for Veterans Day, Singleton said the return of exhibits just before the annual observance is a nice coincidence.

“We are very happy that we’ll reopen on Nov. 3 and we’ll have this beautiful exhibit that honors veterans right before Veterans Day,” said Singleton, herself a former telecommunications operator in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. “The timing is really lovely.”

Visitors must reserve a one-hour time slot online in advance up until 2 p.m. the day of their visit.

Exhibits are free and masks and social distancing will be required of all visitors. Free parking is available through Gate 1 at 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa. For more, visit ocfair.com/centennial-farm/public-reservations or call (714) 708-1500.

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