The Happiest Place on Earth: A History of the Marin County Fair

by Laurie Thompson

11965 Fair at Marin Art & Garden Center, Ross. Anne T. Kent California Room Collection.

Mark your calendars for June 11, 2015, at 12 noon when long-time Cultural Services Director Jim Farley will present an audio-visual tour of the Marin County Fair, starting with its origins in the 1920s. This special presentation will take place in the Board Chambers -Room 330- of the Civic Center Administration Building.

Fair Director Jim Farley (far right) at the 1988 Marin County Fair. Anne T. Kent California Room Collection.

Jim has fond childhood memories of attending the Fair when it was held at the Marin Art and Garden Center in Ross:

My childhood memories range from shooting real arrows at the archery range to watching folk dancing exhibits, to strolling through the inspiring gardens where I especially enjoyed the prize-winning flower arrangements created by my brothers and sisters. The most enduring memory though would be the “freedom” that we six Farley kids enjoyed when we attended that fair. My parents would let us wander the fairgrounds by ourselves all day long and in the early evening we would all meet up for burgers at the DeMolay booth. I was in county fair heaven! The time was magical and made more so by the freedom I enjoyed as a young child roaming through the Marin Art & Garden Center’s remarkable public space.

Children enjoying the Fair at the Marin County Civic Center, circa 1977. Anne T. Kent California Room Collection.

In the early 1970s, Jim’s childhood passion became his life’s work when he joined the County’s Cultural Service department where he served as manager of the Marin County Fair for nearly 30 years. Jim remembers 1988, in particular, as a landmark fair:

The 1988 Fair — “The Magic of Lucasfilm”- was a breakthrough in our Fair’s 74-year history. Lucasfilm’s wide-reaching appeal accelerated the Fair’s popularity, raised its status and featured a museum-quality exhibit which showcased the creative genius of George Lucas. In collaboration with the staff at Lucasfilm, in three short months we assembled a 15,000 square foot exhibit including models, creatures, memorabilia, and costumes documenting the Star Wars films as well as other productions. This world-premiere event attracted the largest-ever fair audience and garnered nation-wide media publicity. It elevated the fair to a new plateau from which we have never looked back.

1988 Marin County Fair-goers with Lucasfilm creatures. Anne T. Kent California Room Collection.

Originally published at



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Anne T. Kent California Room

Anne T. Kent California Room


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