A Glimpse at Fillmore's Festivals
By Dorothy Haase, 1997
We haven’t been able to enjoy a May Festival in Fillmore the last two years due to Covid-19, but we can enjoy looking back on prior events as we think about future ones. This was written by former Fillmore Historical Museum Curator, Dorothy Haase in 1997.
“May Day was properly celebrated in this end of the County last Saturday at Kenney Grove where a basket picnic, track and field meet were the features of the day. The event was attended by a large crowd from Fillmore, Sespe and San Cayetano school districts and everybody there had a royal good time.” taken from the May 6th issue of the Fillmore Herald, 1910 in which it was reported that Fillmore had population of more than 800 persons.
While there were May Day celebrations in various parts of Ventura County, from all records available, the first big celebration in Fillmore was in 1912 under the auspices of the Fillmore Board of Trade, the Parent Teachers Association and the teachers and pupils of Fillmore Union High School and Fillmore grammar school. An invitation was extended to the schools of Bardsdale, Sespe and San Cayetano districts to join with Fillmore in the program.
The activities which were held on the school grounds, including music, singing, speaking, winding of the maypole, flower drills (whatever that was), doll buggy parade, bicycle parade, and a picnic basket lunch under the pepper trees on the school grounds. Hot coffee, cream and sugar were served free. In the afternoon there were many athletic events with prizes of ball bats, fishing poles, tennis shoes, and dollar watches for the boys and tennis shoes, tennis rackets for the girls.
In 1913, the event was similar to the first one, but prizes of silk sashes and parasols were added for the girls and military brushes and fountain pens were added to the prizes for the boys. There was a special race for the lady teachers with winners receiving a silk parasol or box of candy.
There is nothing recorded in 1916 newspapers about May Day events but in 1917, “the May Day festival was the best ever”. The event held on May 4th, also included a wildflower competition and exhibit.
For the Wednesday, May 1st, celebration in 1918, the stage was set for the greatest patriotic demonstration in the history of Ventura County”, with the proceeds going to the Red Cross. The big attraction was the patriotic pageant, Uncle Sam's SOS, presented at Barnes Theater by local participants. The Submarine Base military band was in town for the parade and a concert later in the day. A very special attraction was a number of Fillmore’s fairest daughters sold kisses at 25 cents apiece. As quoted in the Fillmore Daily Star on Wednesday, May 1st, “it must be remembered that for no other cause than the Red Cross would these young ladies even think of such a thing and as it is, they announced positively they will fill no repeat orders. “Again in 1925 the Red Cross was the recipient of the festival proceeds.
1928 Colonia Mexico Entry
In 1921 the Bardsdale school was the site of the mayday activities. The Fillmore Chamber of Commerce and people in general assist in the planning and turned out in large numbers. The Fillmore merchants passed out buttons bearing the legend “I’m going to Bardsdale May 14th.” Some old timers tell that the parade formed in Fillmore and people walked all the way to the Bardsdale school to disband.
1937, Barbecue Stand
In 1932, there was no May Day events as such but there was the fourth community happy hour event on Friday evening, May 6th and a tennis tournament the week before.
The first May Queen of more recent years was Mildred Baum who was elected in 1937. One vote was given for every $0.25 purchase or payment on account to have Fillmore merchant. During the period of the contest, almost $100,000 was generated in business.
1938, Festival Court
In 1940, during the festival, the barbecue was served under the picturesque pepper trees and about 700 persons were served. Over 8000 people passed through the portals of the Flower Show which was held at the Mercantile Building.
Prior to World War Two, activities were held at various locations in town, and seemed to be aimed at strong school participation.
During 1942, 43, 44 and 45, there were no festivals are mayday celebrations due to the war period
Following the war in 1946, the Fillmore festival became a reality again when the Jaycees approved to sponsor the event and shows June 22nd, as the date. The theme was frontier days and special attractions were a horse carnival in the afternoon at the high school football field and a talent show in the evening. Food and game booths were on central Ave in the business district where the event ended with a street dance.
In 1947, the barbeque held on Sespe Ave was attended by 1500 persons and the horse show at the high school football field, 2000.
Kiddie rides (2 merry go rounds, an airplane ride and ponies) were added in 1948, when the midway move from the high school grounds to Sespe Ave, just west of Central Avenue. In 1949, the concession stands and rides were back at the rear of the high school.
1951, Festival Court
1952, Sanitary Dairy Entry
For several years the festival was officially opened with the Coronation of the Queen and her court on the Friday night prior to the parade and other events. In 1955, concessions on the high school grounds were opened on Friday afternoon as well as Saturday. It was interesting to note that in that year, the event was held on April 23rd.
In 1957 and 58, the midway and barbecue were held on the high school grounds at the rear of the bus garage. Craft shows provided carnival rides and games in 1959, and the barbeque location move to the City Park.
1973, Cynthia Reardon Baumgartner
More changes came in 1968, the Chamber of Commerce took the sponsorship and named the event, early California days. The Trinity parish held their first pancake breakfast. It was about this time that pre-event carnival tickets were available. A child could go to the Chamber of Commerce, sign up and check out a certain number of tickets to sell. When the money was turned in, the child would receive free tickets equal to 10% of his sales. This was a good deal as the tickets were cheaper than at the midway in the chamber received a larger percentage of their take. In 1969 the midway was on Main Street between Saratoga and Mountain View. Several times in the early 70s, the midway was on Fillmore Street between Santa Clara and Ventura Street. The location of the midway was very seldom mentioned in the newspaper articles. Apparently but it was assumed everyone knew where it would be.
1975, Henry's Restaurant Entry
Another change came in 1973 when the midway started opening on Thursday night for a few hours. Sunday afternoon opening was started in 1987.
1991 brought significant changes. The midway area was fenced, and admission was charged, also there would be a charge for parking in certain locations.
There have been hobby shows, beard growing contests, hairy leg contest, ladies fancy headgear contest, quilt giveaways, pie eating, orange peeling and greased pole climbing contests plus many other contests and special events during the years past.
For many of us who grew up in Fillmore, thinking about past festivals, we remember the strolling musician, George Espinoza from Santa Paula. George was in our parade for many years, and years, and years, an came out of retirement from other parades to March and hours after his health was failing. He always liked Fillmore because we treated him so nice. He also received a trophy.
1972, Fillmore High School Band
Our festival was not a Hollywood type production. No matter what the year or what went on, it was still a hometown event when former residents returned, local residents all go downtown and have an opportunity to see and visit with old friends and make new ones.