History of the Grandstand
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Home > Education > Museums > Big Fresno Fair Musuem > History of the Grandstand


The Big Fresno Fair Grandstand, known today as the Brian I. Tatarian Grandstand, was originally erected in 1888 and contained a separate clubhouse. Beyond horse racing, the Grandstand would become a place where spectators enjoy a wide variety or thrills and excitement from daredevil stunts to air races!

In 1919, the Fair’s secretary-manager Clyde G. Eberhart arranged a planned train wreck in front of the Grandstand. More than 25,000 spectators came to witness the two locomotives collide. The two trains, both purchased from Santa Fe Railway for $8,000, consisted of two engines, six cars, and two cabooses. Each locomotive was strapped with dynamite and placed on the tracks heading towards one another. The event ended in an earth-shattering wreck as the trains collided creating a spectacle that would not soon be forgotten! Much to the credit of this big event, the 1919 Big Fresno Fair saw attendance numbers soar to nearly 100,000 Fairgoers!

Then, just days before the 1924 Fair, a fire broke out destroying 340 feet of the Speedway and parts of the Grandstand. Fortunately, 200 carpenters worked in three shifts under the direction of County Building Superintendent N.E. James and were able to rebuild the Speedway track and Grandstand in time to host the fifth running of the San Joaquin Valley Classic that same year.

In 1938, a reinforced concrete grandstand with 4,000 seats and a restaurant was built to replace the original Victorian-style turreted wood grandstand at the track. Standing room was also added that could accommodate an additional 4,000 spectators. The total cost of the improvements came to $117,542, with the Federal Public Works Administration covering half of the cost with the rest coming from the State and Fresno County.

Repairs were made in 1946 after extensive damage from wartime use of the grounds by the U.S. Army. The mezzanine was enlarged in 1960, and an enclosed racing press box and three new box seat sections were completed in 1961. Just a few years later in 1969, the Grandstand received a new roof over the seating area to improve views for visitors wanting to enjoy the races. More seats were added again in 1973 – bringing the total number of box seats from the original 657 to 1,024.

In 1996, the grandstand was dedicated to illustrious former Fair Board Director Brian I. Tatarian.

In 2010, with support of Friends of the Fair, the Luxury Deck was added to the Brian I. Tatarian Grandstand, providing a bird’s eye view of both the finish line and the paddock!
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Photos courtesy of the Pop Laval Foundation
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