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Statehood Festivals 1945-now

In 1950 State Fair Commissioner E. Lee Francis decided the fair needed a queen. The first State Fair Queen was the most unlikely contestant. Wilma Vaughn Fulgham, 19, won in competition with borrowed clothes and borrowed horse. She’d been taught to ride by professional barrel racer Lena Klebold. Francis also believed the fairgrounds needed an indoor arena. Clyde Tingley, then commission chairman, said there was no way to finance the project. Francis persuaded Sears to buy $400,000 in revenue bonds, and the fair issued another $1 million in bonds. The coliseum was completed in 1957. The inaugural performance featured Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and The Sons of the Pioneers.

The fair erected the Indian Village in 1964, becoming the first state fair in the nation to devote a venue to Native Americans. Spanish Village followed in 1972. The Hispanic Arts Center and the Alice Hoppes African American Pavilion opened in the 1990s.

Today the fairgrounds, called Expo New Mexico, are also home to the Flea Market, horse racing and a casino, and numerous special events.

In 1957 the city got its first public venue outside the fairgrounds when Civic Auditorium was completed. Albuquerque architect George Pearl used an innovative technique to build the dome-shaped structure – concrete poured over a sand hill – that garnered praise from Frank Lloyd Wright himself. The building was demolished in the early 1990s.

The Albuquerque Convention Center was completed in 1972. It had 167,562 square feet of exhibit space, a 2,350-seat auditorium and a 31,000 square foot ballroom. Over the years the convention center has been expanded and renovated.

In 1972 a modest event led to Albuquerque’s evolution as Balloon Capital. Sid Cutter organized a hot-air balloon rally with 13 balloons. The event moved from a parking lot west of Coronado Shopping Center to the State Fairgrounds to land north of the city. And Over the years, the baker’s dozen pilots became hundreds and then broke 1,000. By 1978 the fiesta had become the world’s largest ballooning event.

In 2001 the Village of Los Ranchos began its Lavender in the Village Festival, after the village’s agriculture committee determined that the fragrant plant grew well in yards and as a crop. Lavender is at its peak in July. The event features special activities at Los Ranchos Growers Market, Los Poblanos Inn and other venues.

Today Albuquerque residents celebrate dozens of festivals each year, many of which reflect the city’s ethnic make-up. They range from the popular Grecian Festival held at St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church to Cinco de Mayo parties, Oktoberfest to Chinese New Year. Many other festivals are associated with religious institutions and various arts organizations.

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