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Agriculture and the Rodeo

From concept to reality

The idea for the Cow Palace--officially the 1-A District Agricultural Association, an agency of the California Department of Food and Agriculture's Division of Fairs and Expositions--started at the 1915 Pan-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. After the livestock exposition was one of its most popular attractions, local business leaders resolved to build a permanent structure to house an animal livestock exposition in San Francisco.


The idea lay dormant until 1925, when the San Francisco Exposition Company formed to finance the project. Nineteen firms and individuals each contributed $20,000, and purchased land in the Marina District, the site of the 1915 fair.

A legislative appropriation of $250,000 in 1931 included funds to purchase a suitable site. However, as the depression of the 1930's worsened, resistance developed to using public funds for a livestock pavilion. 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 and coined the world-famous name.

Twenty years after the inception, digging at the site began. Through the W.P.A. Program, the construction put thousands of the unemployed back to work.

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 featured a tribute to the late Will Rogers. The show was a smash hit.

After World War II ended, the facility again hosted 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

Spring 1946 saw the first Junior Grand National to help encourage California youth 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. Many had begun to leave agriculture altogether and FFA aims to instill 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.

Future Farmers of America
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