Agricultural & Rodeo History

Since opening in 1941, the Cow Palace has welcomed 50 million visitors through its doors. The Cow Palace is officially the 1-A District Agricultural Association, a State agency of the California Department of Food and Agriculture's Division of Fairs and Expositions.


The idea for what was to become the Cow Palace was born at the 1915 Pan-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. When the fair's huge livestock exposition proved to be one of its most popular attractions, local business leaders met and resolved to build a permanent structure to house a great animal livestock exposition in San Francisco.

For ten years after the Pan-Pacific Expo, the idea lay dormant. In 1925, the San Francisco Exposition Company was formed to finance the project. Nineteen firms and individuals each contributed $20,000, and the land was purchased in the Marina District, the site of the 1915 fair.

A legislative appropriation of $250,000 was passed in 1931. This appropriation was to be used in part to purchase a suitable site. However, as the depression of the 1930's worsened, resistance developed to using public funds for construction of a livestock pavilion. The economy was in a state of shock. Millions were unemployed. A local newspaper asked, "Why, when people are starving, should money be spent on a "palace for cows?" A headline writer turned the phrase around, hence the origin of the world famous name.

Twenty years after the inception, and a change from the original site, the first spadeful of dirt was turned. Through the W.P.A. Program, the construction of the Cow Palace put to work thousands of the unemployed.

The Cow Palace was completed in 1941. The new arena boasted a concrete and steel roof that covered nearly six acres. The first event to be held in the new arena was the Western Classic Holstein Show in April, 1941. In November of that year, the first Grand National Livestock Expo, Horse Show and Rodeo was held, featuring a tribute to the late Will Rogers. The show was declared a smash hit.

Following World War II in 1946, the facility was again readied to host the Grand National Livestock Expo, Horse Show and Rodeo. The show was again a success, despite rain and wind storms that flattened the enormous outdoor livestock tents. This near disaster led to the construction of the permanent storm-proof pavilions that had been in the original plans.


Supporting the Future of Farming


In the spring of 1946, the Junior Grand National was established to encourage the youth of California in their livestock projects. The Cow Palace also supports the Future Farmers of America (FFA), which was founded in 1925 when the children of American farmers were expected to take over their parents' operations, but many had begun to leave agriculture altogether. FFA aims to instill a sense of pride in farm families by providing them with leadership training and an outlet to express themselves.

Today the California FFA Association serves over 80,000 student members in over 320 high schools, from urban schools in Los Angeles and the Bay Area to rural schools all across the state. In the classroom FFA members learn agricultural science and in some cases trade skills. Outside the classroom they grow crops, raise livestock, participate in research trials and job shadows, and compete against other FFA members in leadership skills.

A young Grand National Rodeo fan watches the show at the Cow Palace.

The Cow Palace under construction in the 1930s.

The very first Grand National Livestock Expo, Horse Show and Rodeo in November 1941.


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